When I reviewed Richard Osman’s first mystery novel, The Thursday Murder Club, I suggested that whenever I (or many other people, I suspect) read a novel by a celebrity, I approach it with the question, “Can it really be good, or is it just popular because the author is a known name?” In the case of Osman’s mystery, my conclusion was that it was a perfectly good mystery novel, enjoyable by anyone whether they have any knowledge of mysteries or not.
Now Bob Mortimer, one of my favourite (and one of the quirkiest) UK comedians, has released his first novel, a sort of mystery/thriller, and I approached it with the same trepidation. I love Bob Mortimer so much: what if his book was a disappointment?
To cut to the chase: it was not. But I’m not entirely sure it has the same broad appeal as, say, The Thursday Murder Club, because if you’re not already a Bob Mortimer fan, you’d have to at least be a potential Bob Mortimer fan to enjoy this book, because it’s permeated with Mortimer’s sense of humour and slightly off-centre view of the world.
The main character of The Satsuma Complex is Gary, a thirty-year-old legal assistant who is not particularly thrilled about his job, his social life, or his modest London flat. In fact, Gary is, externally, a pretty dull guy — but his inner life is rich and vivid. He’s a sort of Walter Mitty-esque character, bumbling through his boring life while carrying on imagined dialogues with the squirrel he passes on his morning commute, and mentally describing everything and everyone he sees with the most unlikely similes and comparisons. “When I arrived I noticed a colourful read and white striped bicycle leant up against the wall by the entrance. It crossed by mind that there might be a pissed juggler inside the building throwing his skittles willy-nilly at the light fittings.”
Basically, to get into this novel, you have to accept that the fairly bland Gary with his bland life and bland job has the most incredibly vivid imagination and off-the-wall sense of humour. But if you’ve read Bob Mortimer’s memoir (which of course I have), you’ll know that he basically was Gary, prior to doing comedy professionally — a guy with a law degree, doing a low-level municipal job without great enjoyment or ambition, living a quiet social life badly hampered by shyness and anxiety.
Anyway, when Gary meets an acquaintance at a pub for a drink, he also meets an attractive young woman who seems to be interested in him, but who mysteriously disappears when his back is turned. Then the acquaintance he met for drinks turns up dead, possibly murdered, and we’re off with a marvellously twisty plot that I will confess I could not predict the twists and turns of at all, right up to the last page of the final chapter. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.