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No Exit paperback £14.99
The Fourth Hand
Black Swan paperback £6.99
reviews by Ellen Cheshire
At first glance it would seem that these two authors would have little to unite them in a joint review. Sparkle Hayter is a brash Canadian gal, whose five 'Robin Hudson' mystery novels are great fun and highly recommended but have hardly rocked the publishing world, and John Irving is a well-established figure in contemporary American literature with a list of successful novels and their screen adaptations to his credit� his own recent adaptation of 1985's novel The Cider House Rules having garnered him an Oscar.
Regardless of these dissimilarities both these books touch on similar themes despite being of very different genres: the werewolf novel and the fantastical. Both are set in contemporary America and focus on America's preoccupation with celebrity and the mee-ja (aka: media).
Sparkle Hayter's first non-series novel Naked Brunch is of the 'once upon a time' variety. Once upon a time in the city of New York lived Annie Engel, a bright, efficient and lonely legal secretary, who one day wakes up and finds herself naked, covered in blood and puking up eyeballs... across town a series of mutilated and munched-upon corpses are beginning to appear. Believing there to be serial killer on the loose, the police hurl themselves into a fury of activity.
Cuckolded Sam Deverell finds himself working the graveyard shift for CNN-like network when he overhears the police scanner spring into action, and despite his reputation within the station for being old and past it, he suddenly finds himself with an exclusive, and newfound fame. But it is not just Sam's whose life changes because of these killings, for Dr Marco Potenza knows only too well who the perpetrator of these crimes is but he can't tell the police - who would believe that these brutal killings are being carried out by a werewolf?
In Naked Brunch, a Grimm's fairy tale for the 21st Century, Sparkle Hayter ingeniously interweaves these four stories together: of Annie's slow realisation that she is a werewolf and relationship with others of her kind. Of Dr Potenza's dark secret, and of the exclusive New York clinic he runs for the treatment of those like Annie (and himself). Of the police instigation and the behind the scenes machinations with politicians and the media and, of course, of Sam, the world's luckiest reporter who is transformed from a public joke as the cuckolded husband of the much younger and glamorous Candace, to triumphant hero exposing crime and corruption in New York's seedy underbelly...
In John Irving's The Fourth Hand, we have another author putting American TV networks on trial in a modern day fable. Patrick Wallingford is an attractive middle-aged TV reporter for a CCN-like network. Whilst covering a story about Indian circuses, his life changes when a lion eats his hand. The whole world saw this happen as the news story was featured every hour on the hour for days. As the nation watched with horror, for three people who had never met, this event was a defining moment in their lives.
Patrick, who had been a familiar face on US TV screens, is now a worldwide celebrity. Already successful with women, his new vulnerability makes him even more attractive, but to his employers he is a problem - they cannot fire him, but with one hand he becomes known as the 'Disaster Man'. Is this the image they really want for their network? Dr Nicholas Zajac, the renowned hand surgeon, realises this is just the case he needs to make him a celebrity and gain that much wanted partnership. Mrs Clausen sees that after her husband Otto's death can be of use to someone else and so a deal is struck - Patrick Wallingford can have Otto's hand once he dies, but only if she is allowed visiting rights. And with this unusual premise Irving sets in motion a chain of events that will inextricably link these three characters, they will lead them to places they never imagined, and into situations where dreams really do come true, even if they are not the dreams you thought of.
Both Naked Brunch and The Fourth Hand have multiple viewpoints, which makes for speedy and involving reading. With their knowing exploration of the nature of TV broadcasting and America's obsession with disaster and celebrity, they come as rather harsh reading post-11th September, especially as both novels are set in New York. Yet in some respects this makes them even timelier and adds a further dimension to their critique for such coverage. On the down side you don't really care for any of the characters, the are mere ciphers for the larger tales they are telling and both Hayter and Irving are telling very tall tales indeed - check them both out as they make a very good double-bill.
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