Book review: A Light-Hearted Look At Murder

by Mark Watson

Time was when comedians writing novels became a joke in itself, with every vaguely famous gagsmith seeming to land a literary deal – with decidedly mixed results. Mark Watson, however, is a different kettle of fish, and with this, his second book he proving himself as skilful a writer as he is a stand-up.

A Light-Hearted Look At Murder, despite what its ironic title, neon-inspired cover design and sleevenotes promising a ‘deviously brilliant spoof’ might suggest, is no comedy, although it does raise subtle points about the British sense of humour. Similarly, the whimsical premise – a romance between the fifth-tallest woman in Britain and a professional Adolf Hitler lookalike – sounds terribly contrived, trying too hard to be quirky. But it’s not like that at all, thanks to Watson’s ability to paint them as believable, rounded characters. In the end, their unlikeliness never enters into it; they are simply people the reader cares about.

Our introduction to the Fuhrer’s doppelganger, Andreas, comes through the eyes of Alexandra, a disaffected urbanite who’s unhappily single, unhappily employed in a dogsbody media job and unhappily flatsharing with big-city cokeheads. On a whim, she signs up as a volunteer to befriend a prison inmate, who admits he was jailed after ‘a series of events to freakish and appalling to recount’. But soon Andreas does deliver his life story: in a hefty memoir written in his native language, German, which Alex has to get translated.

The work comes back in instalments, so chapters switch between Alex’s unfulfilled contemporary life, and Andreas’s account of how he met and fell in love with the giant woman at Cambridge, and how he came to be in jail. Watson’s not the first author to employ this technique of alternating voices, but it’s a seamless and effective way of getting two stories in one.

Alex’s is fairly straightforward, almost chick lit, while Andreas’s is a gripping page-turner. Every translated chunk ends in something of a cliff-hanger, and you’re always keen to find out what happens next. The fact you know it ends badly drives your forward, too.

Watson’s experiences of the comedy circuit have been mined for the parallel world of lookalike entertainers in which small gigs, insecure acts and stroppy promoters all play their part. Essentially the novel is full of people who don’t fit in, whether because they’re too shy, too tall, obsessed by an obscure Victorian socialite, or simply drifting through a life they don’t really want. As a linguistic outsider, the German’s bafflement at English idioms, sense of humour, and compunction to joke about everything are dryly witty, too.

A Light-Hearted Look At Murder well-observed, convincing and told with an appealing lightness of touch; but above all, it’s a cracking yarn that cements Watson’s reputation as a fine novelist, no matter what his night job.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett, August 2007

A Light-Hearted Look At Murder by Mark Watson is published by Chatto and Windus, priced £11.99. Click hereto order from Amazon at £8.38.

Published: 9 Aug 2007

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