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Orion paperback £6.99
review by Rob Marshall
Beerlight is a strange town. You won't find it on any known map. What's more, unlike many of today's fantasy authors, its creator has admirably resisted the temptation to supply you with one. However, the directions for getting there are simple. Simply buy this book. Yes, Steve Aylett writes about it and the people that live there in this short novel which, eagerly, defies pigeonholing. Is it future world SF? Technothriller mystery? Hardboiled noir with a comic twist, or a satire on stereotyping in generic fiction? No-one knows for certain - or if they do, they ain't talking, man. But enough about what nobody knows... like I said, Beerlight's a town - sort of (things get sorted). Taffy Atom is a private investigator - kind of (as in one of a kind). He only tackles the really tough cases... the stuff that Holmes, Spade, Hammer, Marlowe, Gittes, Poirot, Rockford, Magnum et al just can't handle.
So, who's stolen Kafka's brain, anyway? Atom is on the trail. He not afraid of the fiendish crooks, and he's on first name terms with the bent cops. Atom is a rambling adventure narrative. It's distinguishing features are abundant literary sidebars and witty asides. You'll know it when you see it. Aylett pays homage to all and sundry yet nothing in particular. He's pretty much his own man, so far as humourous intent is concerned. Chapter 17 is titled 'The Girl Who Was Death', so I can tell you he's seen TV series, The Prisoner. Another chapter's called 'Horse Feathers' - perhaps in honour of the famous Marx brothers film. Add Bogart's poetic line (from Maltese Falcon): 'Stuff that Dreams Are Made of' and you have some rather damning evidence of Aylett's eclectic range of influences and themes. I won't attempt a plot synopsis, as every such attempt is doomed to abject failure. There's way too much going on here for any summary to do justice, and it doesn't always make sense as logical storytelling goes. Aylett's writing mixes superbly crafted nuggets of intense prose with scattershot throwaway quips, but has many subtle effects that reward re-reading.
Reviewers of this, and other Aylett works, often cite the writer's stylish ferocity of language and striking cartoon imagery (Tex Avery, not Walt Disney), and his somewhat unhinged way of plotting. These are all positive aspects of Atom, in my view. The fact that Aylett manages to sneak in a number of fairly serious messages about society's ills, hidden among the decidedly off kilter gems of quick-fire dialogue between Atom and his adversaries, only makes this sort of material all the more entertaining.
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