Map of Blue Book Balloon

21 April 2015

Review: A Few Words for the Dead by Guy Adams

A Few words for the Dead
Guy Adams
Del Rey, 2015
PB 292pp

I bought this book from my local independent bookshop.

Warning - this review contains spoilers (and some speculation about the writing you may prefer not to see before you read the book).

This is the third volume in Guy Adams' Clown Service series, based on the activities of a branch of the British security services dealing with arcane and supernatural threats to the realm.

Like the first book, The Clown Service, the book turns on the past of August Shining, head of Section 37 - indeed for most of the story he's being debriefed on events that too place in Berlin 30 years before. Meanwhile, Toby Greene and his new wife Tamar are on honeymoon. They have dealt with the Rain Soaked Bride, featured in the second book, but its creator has raised a new demon to destroy them.

Into this gap comes an old enemy of August's. Long ago he promised it something, and now it wants to collect...

I found it really difficult to sum this book up. At one level it is, I think, the most successful of the Clown Service novels - bringing together an atmospheric trip back to the Berlin of Le Carre and Deighton with a chilling dash of the occult, and wrapping up a number of loose threads from the previous two books (could this be the last of the series, or at least mark a pause?)  The story is tight, the action scarcely lets up and you could easily devour it in one session of reading.

However, there is a problem which I wasn't able to get round (this is where the spoilers come in).  About half way through the book, the antagonist goes on a killing spree, scything through those August knows and relies on.  It's a calculated act of revenge and provocation that makes sense within the terms of the plot. But. But. As part of this a woman is bludgeoned to death in a fridge. I stopped here and debated with myself whether Adams intended an overt reference to "fridging" (killing sympathetic characters to give the hero motivation for revenge). I'm pretty sure he did, but either way, it bounced me out of the story. You may not have heard of this particular trope and it may not trouble you - or may not have before I laboured over the point - if so, I apologise.

Thinking this over afterwards I wonder, though, if there isn't a deeper problem here.  The book is very polished and the plot done very nicely (see if you spot how things are going to work out - I didn't!) with distinct echoes of classic British horror alongside the spy stuff. But without that killing spree it would essentially come down to Shining telling his old story, and then... and then, what happens after.  I sense that the other thread is there, as much as anything, simply to provide another thread to the story with that fridge stuff simply Adams' way of saying "I know what this looks like".  Really not sure what to think about that. I may be being over harsh.

To set against that, there are some really well written, creepy parts - for example, the puppet theatre: I'd challenge anyone to read that without a glance over the shoulder and a shiver.  So, for me, successful but also not successful.

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