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The Deaths by Mark Lawson

Four wealthy families live in four exclusive listed houses in the countryside, a half hour commute from London. From the outset we know that one of these families has been murdered, and Lawson’s novel keeps the big reveal of who and why until the end part of the book. Instead he introduces us to each of “The Eight” as they commute, work, shop, drink, eat, and holiday together. On the surface all is perfect, inevitably, not far beneath those glossy veneers, all is far from ok.

The difficulty with having four sets of couples is in establishing distinct personas for each. Max, Jenno, Emily and Jonny seemed more vivid to me than Simon, Tasha, Libby and Tom. Added to their voices are those of the children, Nick (a fellow commuter), the investigating police officers, a female vicar, a nanny. Lawson’s cast is large, as is the novel, and I don’t think he manages to capture all the voices. His attempt at teen speak is rather clunky:

“Jeez, this is awks… He’s really old (thirty?) but dead fit and definitely gives her the full body scan, even though Mumsie made her wear a body-burka and what she calls the Sensible Coat. Tilly was, like, I’ll be inside all day but she was only on transmit as usual. Troll.”

He does, however, excel at pompous men whose speech is still peppered with juvenile public school phrases.

It’s not really a murder mystery, although of course it is that; it’s a satirical look at life now, a social commentary for the middle aged. Smart phones, Waitrose, drinking too much, children speaking in faux gangster styles, the economy, hypochondria, internet porn, coffee culture and so on. There are funny lines such as “Simon blames Top Gear for the fact that so many British men now regard conversation as violently belittling banter.” There’s also a lot of sex talk, and some sex scenes that may surely be nominated for this years Bad Sex award. (I can’t be bothered to flick back through the whole book, but I think there’s even a reference to the penis as truncheon.)

I wanted to know what had happened, but I did become somewhat bored and took to skim reading occasionally. It’s all a bit of a romp, with some brilliantly well observed lines skewering the white, middle classes. My favourite line:

 “A black maid is doing something complicated with pastry. The lives of these people.

“Monifa, my wife,” Mortimer identifies her.

Kate tries not to show that she has been humiliatingly out-liberaled.”

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