Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Review - Disturbia

Disturbia – Christopher Fowler 

Christopher Fowler is an author that I have always heard mentioned on forums etc and vowed to check out. Disturbia it seems is one of his better books so when I saw it cheap in a book store I took the plunge and purchased it. The premise sounded good but for some reason it has languished on my book shelf for a number of years.

The Blurb:

An assignment brings Vincent - permanent student and budding young writer - into the world of Sebastian Wells and the Prometheus League. Under the guise of a Victorian gaming society it operates extremist and covert activities. Threatening exposure, Vincent is thrown into a game of life or death.

First off, the prose took me by surprise. I am not sure what I was expecting, but Christopher Fowler’s vocabulary is certainly accomplished and his observations of the class segregation in society and the decline of London as a thriving enterprise are depicted well with a good grounding in the subject matter.

I will admit openly, that politics does very little for me. Cynical observations of the various political stances are wasted on my mind. Call it ignorance, stupidity whatever you want, but I have an inability to engage on the subject matter, so unfortunately large portions of the commentary passed me by.

Still if a novel has a good plot and good characters then in my mind that is all that matters.

As the blurb highlights, the novel follows Vincent as he becomes embroiled in a world he knows little of but is keen to expose. It essentially exists of two parts. Part one concerns itself with Vincent meeting and interviewing Sebastian Wells. Whilst part 2 deals with the deadly game that Vincent finds himself an unwilling participant off as he struggles to survive.

If you asked me before hand which of the two parts I would have been most interested in, I would have said part two. However, it is the first part that is by far the strongest.

Vincent is a decent character. He is disillusioned with life and has no real career path, despite showing plenty of potential as a promising writer. He is told to create an assignment that will make a name for himself and on a whim, he selects Sebastian Wells as his subject matter.

Sebastian Wells is a “well to do” toff with a shady past. He has never worked a day in his life but despite engaging in many extra-curricular activities, always seems to have controversy follow him.  He is the member of Prometheus League which is shrouded in mystery itself.

And so a series of interviews begins where Vincent tries to extract the juicy details from Vincent’s life without pushing too far and upsetting the man. It makes for intriguing reading as a certain cat and mouse routine is played out.

Vincent wrestles with his conscience as he is torn between liking the affable Sebastian and enjoying the wealthy lifestyle he is afforded as a result, and uncovering dribs and drabs about the man’s past that are scandalous.

Sebastian Wells is a charming character. Unapologetically arrogant, yet at the same time, intrigued by Vincent - it is a good study of both characters.

The second part however fails to match the first. The game that is set up for Vincent to play consists of 10 challenges. All of these have strict time limits and involve Vincent solving cryptic clues and going to the appointed location for the next clue.

It is a good premise, but fails to deliver on multi fronts. First of all, the clues are so complex that the reader does not have a hope of solving any of them. This spoils the fun a little, but even when Vincent does figure out the solution, it is rarely satisfying. The clues rely on knowledge and tenuous links that only specialist will know.

Secondly, some of the clues are solved by completely unbelievable coincidences. For example one of them is solved by a random tramp passing by, who Vincent happens to bump into when he lands on an elder lady after jumping out of the window. That said tramp happens to be an expert on the subject matter makes the book completely implausible.

Thirdly, the game is deadly, people die. Unfortunately, those that die are barely introduced and so when they are killed, the reader has no emotional attachment to them. What is worse, with the strict time limit in between each clue Vincent still manages to stop and have sex for 40 minutes with a complete random – come on!

The ending is merely satisfying. There are no real revelations and it is all pretty predictable.

Overall, I think disappointed sums up how I felt about Disturbia. It is not a bad novel by any stretch of the imagination. The first half is quite good, whilst not necessarily being my cup of tea. The second half also has some genuinely good and tense moments but the implausibility of half of it completely spoilt the novel for me.

My rating: 6.7