The Rabbit Factory by Marshall Karp

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The Rabbit Factory by Marshall Karp

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A theme park that's a lot like Disneyland has a nightmare when one of its key animal mascots is murdered off duty. But it's just the beginning, and it's up to a pair of hardened cops to get fluffy and solve the escalating crimes that threaten the whole entertainment corporation. A bright and engaging comedy thriller that comes recommended by the Bookbag.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 632 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Allison & Busby
ISBN: 978-0749081638

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If you were to run a family-friendly theme park, as one of the highlights of an entertainment industry based on a lifetime's success in animation films, one of the last things you would want would be a murder on site. Especially when the dead figure is your main mascot - Rambo the Rambunctious Rabbit. But at least you could possibly rely on Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs to solve the crime for you.

But this might not be an open and shut case. The death may be a signal targeted against the success of your corporation, or it may be revenge, down to the fact that the man in the rabbit costume was actually a paedophile, working in the family environment with an assumed identity.

It will take more deaths, threats, and a nightmarish escalation in criminality to show you the real intent, and real sincerity, of those who have it in for your company's name.

The company name is still that of its founder, Dean Lamaar. Before his death he had built the conglomerate from scratch, in a Disney-mimicking way. But it's now run by his successor, Ike Rose, and the last thing he wants is any murder to sully the Lamaar name - and his stock.

However it's the cops in any thriller that should be to the fore, and we have a right pairing here. Biggs, who doesn't say much, but when he does comes up with off-key wisecracks, announcing homicides by "we've got a live one here" and so on. Lomax says a lot more - indeed it's his first person narrative that most of the book is written in - and is more engaging. However there's a good chemistry between the two, and their daft personal code and in-jokes show how the pair have been together for a long time - which includes having been in author Marshall Karp's thoughts for a long time. They're not paper-thin cut-outs of characters, but real crime fighters.

It's good to report that everyone in the book has a good and clearly defined motive, from Amy, the ballsy and beautiful corporate press-appeaser come truth-hider come public relations executive, to the head of company security, and the several people that populate the book while having less to do with the crime spree.

While there's a lot of the detective work detailed quite thoroughly there is also a whole life for Lomax, as he mourns his recently-departed wife, and falls into a new relationship, and a sub-plot involving his family which sadly (or otherwise) gets dropped for most of the second half of the book. This is no dense procedural, nor is it a wham-bam thrill-a-page beach read.

Of course you're letting yourself in for it when trying to write a comedy thriller - it has to work on two fronts. The thriller side certainly works - the plot does twist and turn in an appealing, interesting way, although the give-away clue is flagged up far too clearly, if not what it's a clue to. It's surprising how there is no reliance on cliff-hangers forced into the end of each short chapter, yet the urge for just a few more pages is always there.

You could also shoot yourself in the foot by having a comic side-kick who thinks he's hilarious, but on the whole the book is comedic. I would call it breezy rather than down-right funny, but that's no bad thing. There are far too many cultural references that people outside the US won't understand in the jokes but the humour is droll, unforced, and very believable when focused on how the cops relieve the tension.

The style of the writing is also of note. The Lomax narration drops into quite hard-hitting seriousness with his back-story, and when there's the murders and other crimes going on it disappears altogether for a third person narrative. Indeed, we see the conspirators at work not a sixth of the way through the book, or some of them - if this were a movie they would be filmed from the waist down.

This has been compared to the work of Carl Hiaasen, but I'm happy to say it's much better. The one work of his I read easily lost its humour, and branched off into eco-earnestness about corporate land poaching when a new theme park was being launched. That had a very similar feel, but pretended Disney didn't exist for one - The Rabbit Factory knows Disney exists, and is all the more real for it. If memory serves, this is better in every way.

The Rabbit Factory might turn out to be the highlight in a huge portfolio of Lomax and Biggs thrillers, but I'll forgive Karp wanting to replicate the success of this, his first published novel. It's not exactly profound literature, but it's a lot better than the dressed-up airport novel I first saw it as. It looks far too long, spread over 630 pages, but apart from the conclusion being too wordy it sails by in a readable but not cloyingly simple style. The humour is on the whole evident - and welcome; the thrills of a worthwhile sincerity. The clichés are limited to how pretty the women are, and thankfully avoid the heroes being indestructible and all-knowledgeable. I would recommend this book to thriller fans, and those thinking of a droll impulse buy.

The Rabbit Factory was a joy to read, and I thank the publishers for sending it to the Bookbag.

We also liked Flipping Out by Marshall Karp.

Booklists.jpg The Rabbit Factory by Marshall Karp is in the Top Ten Beach Reads For Boys.

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Magda said:

Oh, I really, really like the idea of somebody killing the Mouse (oops, the Rabbit). Somehow it suggests a Ben Elton material, but seems rather better executed?

The best ever novel with a theme park at its core was, IMNSHO, Barnes' "England, England".