Aug/Sep 1998 Book Reviews


Rupert Thomson
Bloomsbury, 1998 312pp
ISBN: 0-7475-3989-8

reviewed by Ann Skea

A fiery orange cover, where the bar-code, ISBN and book details make an eye-catching design feature, and the words "DRINK ME" are spelt out in embossed letters which can only be seen from certain angles. And a back-cover blurb telling of the new product campaign by advertising executive, Jimmy Lyle, which leads to "the twilight world of synchronised swimming" and a murder. A tantalising package, but would you want to buy it?

Yes, if you like light-weight, slightly weird murder stories. Yes, if you appreciate a bit of corporate games-playing in the advertising world. No, if you want a fast-moving plot and totally believable characters. And definitely no, if you can't take the occasional graphic violence and loveless sex.

Barker (he just missed being called Jocelyn) Dodds is a night-club bouncer, barber, and hired hit-man with an unearned reputation as a killer. He also has an unbelievable tendency to borrow books from libraries, especially medieval history - "more frequently these days, an original source like Bede or Fredegar or Paul the Deacon". Emotion, for Barker, is a sort of "noise" inside his head like someone smashing a bottle in the alley under his bedroom window: "delicate, almost musical, like sleigh-bells". He feels this when he thinks about his ex-wife and that is the extent of his emotional range. But the photograph of the girl he is hired to murder inexplicably bothers him.

Glade, is a young ex-art-student who works as a waitress in a Soho restaurant. She believes that she is in love with Tom, an American lawyer who flies her to the States every few months (seemingly out of curiosity) and then generally abandons her to her own devices. Tom is about as emotionless as Barker. Glade, who obviously missed out on any feminist consciousness-raising at her art school, is broke, but invited by Tom to a New Orleans wedding she signs up for some sleep research experiments so that she can afford to buy a new dress. She emerges from the experiments asking for a drink she didn't know existed - 'Kwench!'.

Flash-back to Jimmy Lynch, an advertising executive with an admirable ability to adapt himself to his new American boss's language and expectations, and a hot new idea for promoting 'Kwench!'. Confounding his various corporate rivals, Jimmy catches the boss's eye and his attention with a daring scheme for subliminal advertising.

Well, that's the bare bones of the plot. Various peripheral characters appear and vanish. Jimmy's boss is ruthless when things go wrong. Various villains are hired to sort things out, but Jimmy, who would seem to be a prime target, is not in danger. Barker and Glade clearly are in danger, but I am not going to tell you what happens to them. And if you want to know about the synchronised swimming then you'll just have to read the book.


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