02 July 2006
The idea of Ben Elton writing a book about Friends Reunited sounds like cash-in bandwagon-jumping of the worst kind. I thought it would be better if he wrote a book about one of the parody sites that people kept launching a few years back, such as Bullies Reunited.
So imagine my surprise to find out that's exactly what he's done. In his murder mystery 'Past Mortem', Elton explores the theme of bullying and the impact it has on everybody's lives: the bullies, the victims and the witnesses.
Detective Edward Newsom is tracking a serial killer while battling loneliness by delving into his own past through Friends Reunited. He's surprised to find his status has changed since he was at school, and then shocked as his past and present collide.
There are a couple of weaknesses. The main characters are well-written, but some of the characters on the periphery are see-through. Even if former class mates of the eighties did meet up, it's highly unlikely they would still be saying 'Rock on, Tommy!' to each other. Even in jest. The love story sub-plot is layered on pretty thick and only delivers a modest pay-off. While there are surprises throughout, the ending seemed obvious from about two-thirds of the way through.
But that's just picking on a good book. 'Past Mortem' elaborates on its theme creatively and brings everything to a tidy conclusion in a way that's so elegant it's like watching synchronised swimming. At times, it's gruesome. But it's satisfying to read and unlike Dead Famous, avoids easy answers and nearly all cliches. This is a great whodunnit, with a nice line in whydunnit thrown in for free. Recommended.