Past Mortem by Ben Elton (Bantam Books, 2004)
Introduced by Ellie Wait
I picked up two Ben Elton books in a charity shop out of a sales bin. They cost me just ten pence each and the purchase was impulsive and shortly forgotten. The already well-thumbed and worn copy of Past Mortem sat on my bookshelf for months next to Dead Famous which was in a similar shabby state. At the time, I was preparing for exams and so most of my reading was not for pleasure. Instead, I was drowning in a sea of confusing sociology notes which were not thrilling in any way, shape of form.
There are very few people who’s book recommendations I trust but I had been told by some very reliable sources that Ben Elton’s Dead Famous would be just up my street and so, when exams were over I began to settle back into my reading habits. Little did I know that I was taking my first step towards a very author specific addiction. The thrill of finding a new favourite author is an exhilaration that only books worms like myself can understand.
A couple of chapters a night is enough for me generally, but the contrasts of humour and horror in Ben Elton’s writing was gripping. As soon as I closed Dead Famous I began Past Mortem and rushed through it with the same desperate need for fictional closure as before. I have always enjoyed a crime thriller and a suspenseful read but it took me a while to understand why these books were making my mind boggle, even once completed.
I think I’ve identified it. The murders and crimes portrayed in both books all contain a familiar essence, something that’s a bit too close to home. The stories are not set in some distant, dystopian land from which we can disconnect so the thrill seems closer and deeper.
Dead Famous tells the story of a murder in the Big Brother House. Big Brother is a game show in which the premise is that the contestants are watched and scrutinised constantly making the crime even more shocking and the investigation even more mysterious when no evidence is found on any camera. I have watched and enjoyed Big Brother (I feel slightly ashamed to admit that!) and therefore making the brutality of the murder feel even more alarming. Even the idea that there could be a murder in such a controlled and supposedly safe environment scares me.
This familiarity also seeps into Past Mortem. We can all remembers certain characters from school; The class clown, the computer nerd, and most prominently for some of us, the school bully. I personally feel that Past Mortem took the phrase ‘Standing up for yourself’ to a whole new level and alongside the sexually vivid sub plots, gory descriptions of bloody murders and witty one liners, I was undoubtably hooked.
Needless to say, I have acquired many more Ben Elton books throughout my binge including Blast from the Past, High Society and Stark all of which have one thing in common which makes them gripping: The stories are all worryingly possible.