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Old 23rd Jul 2004, 16:13   #1
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Default Simon Kernick: The Business of Dying

The Business of Dying - Simon Kernick

This is the debut novel by Kernick, and one I picked up at the Bodies in the Bookshop event last week. Given that a usually slothful reader like me managed to whip through it in less than a week is testament to the pace of the book.

Before the event, I hadn't heard of Kernick, but a brief bit of research beforehand made it clear that he was probably for me the most interesting bloke there. His novels (there are three currently published, including this one) are variously described as 'dark', 'savage' and 'rancidly rendered' - which makes perfect crime reading for me.

The Business of Dying, despite being pretty bleak at times, is nothing like David Peace or James Ellroy. There isn't the sense of total desolation that seems to accompany books by those gloomy writers, and indeed throughout the book, until perhaps the climactic closing chapters, a black humour is ever present. I'm never certain about so-called 'humorous' crime books, though here the laughs are on the periphery and largely stem from the fairly misanthropic hero. The writing is less stylised too, and perhaps more in line with the likes of Rankin and Booth. No fancy typographical tricks here.

The story, then. DS Dennis Milne is a pretty fed up detective with too many unsolved cases on his hands than he'd like. Oh, and he also earns a bit of cash on the side as a hit man for a dodgy local 'businessman'. The story begins with Milne capping three blokes in a hotel car park before rushing to the scene of another murder, this time of a teenage prostitute. As Milne digs deeper, his grip on both his police work and his grisly side line begins to loosen and by the last third of the book he loses control almost completely.

Kernick manages to control the plot superbly, the twists and turns are never obvious nor unlikely, and Milne is a likeable if flawed anti-hero. My main criticism of the book stem purely from my own personal taste: I think more could have been made of Milne's hopelessness during the beginning of the end of the book - he seems to adapt to life as a fugitive from justice rather quickly. Likewise, the revealing of the final details of the plot comes to late for me - more time could be spent with Milne trying to come to terms with what has happened without too much negative impact on the pace. Lastly, Kernick includes an epilogue which ties up some loose ends. I think I prefer my ends to remain loose.

This is not to detract from an excellent crime novel, particularly when you consider that it is his first. More crime fiction should be like this, where the lines between the good guys and the bad are blurred, and the ending is not really all that happy. With The Business of Dying, Kernick has proved that he should do well in the business of writing.
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