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Malcolm J. Deeley
- Published on Amazon.com
Based on the experience of reading Ashley Lister's Death By Fiction, I'm going to need to redefine the concept of lurid.
Ah, lurid. First (and almost omnipresent out there in the world), there is a kind of lurid fiction Lister does not write. That is Dumb Lurid. It is loaded with sex, violence and frenzied sound and fury signifying very little and going more or less nowhere. Don't get me wrong. Dumb Lurid can be great fun. It is the stuff of countless pulp magazines and "B" movies. It can be quite addicting. The great author Yukio Mishima, in moments of relaxing from the writing of Nobel-worthy literature, found time to star in several Dumb Lurid detective films in 1960's Japan. The only thing that would have made that concept
more appealing, would be if Mishima had starred in the kind of film Ashley Lister might write. Because Lister has performed a feat of literary alchemy. He has taken the elements of a piece of glorious trash fiction, and transformed them into something new.
Welcome to Smart Lurid, courtesy of A.L.
Death By Fiction (an irresistible title, you have to admit) is brim-full of the above-mentioned sex, violence, and frenzied sound and fury. But these things are not aimless, and in fact all contribute to a plot that is deliciously complex, carried out by characters that both embrace and defy the stereotypes of the mystery genre. You may think, by the time you've been introduced to the octogenarian woman sleuth, the borderline (or not-so-borderline) psychotic loser, the thug with aspirations toward dubious greatness, the femme fatale, and the cop who makes up the rules as he goes along, that you're on easy, familiar ground. You're quite wrong.
For one thing, each of these characters is also a writer. By definition, writers are obsessive, driven, given to a tenuous grip on reality, and only marginally sane. Mystery writers (particularly unpublished ones, as all of the key characters in the book are except the murder victim) might well be the worst of the lot. They do, after all, obsess about violent death, the sensuality of murder, the complex means by which to commit the perfect crime...and so does the circle of writers who become enmeshed in the internecine plot of Death By Fiction. Along the way, Lister offers countless treats for other writers, skewering every aspect of their unique mania. This in itself would make the book priceless, but there is more.
Dancing along a razor's edge that from a lesser writer could easily become parody, the characters in Death By Fiction will twist and tug at your emotions in unexpected ways. With moments of pathos and rage and frustration...and even transient, elusive echoes of possible happiness.
Amid all this, an undercurrent of wickedly black humor pervades the book. From
incisive erudition to uproarious crudity. There is strong erotic content in the book, and the sex is intense. More than just graphic...shall we say unique? Among many other things, you will learn uses for a cell phone you never thought possible.
Lister also stays true to that gem of writer's advice from Chekov: "If you describe a gun on a mantelpiece in Scene One, it must be fired by the final scene". Nothing is wasted. Small elements of the story are fitted with a watchmaker's precision into the narrative, and they all mesh precisely together in the end. As to that end, I am not going to spoil your pleasure by revealing it, except to say that Lister provides one last moment of pure alchemy: he makes the conclusion harsh and satisfying, realistic and edged with hopeful fantasy, all at once.
When you reach the end of Death By Fiction, you may well be tempted, like a demented but happy reader of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, to flip right back to the beginning and start again, just to savor all of the touches you may have missed the first time.
Lurid was never like this. But it should have been.