4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I have enjoyed some of Mark Mills's previous books and hoped that this would be as good. Sadly, it isn't really. It was a light and fairly easy read but the plot is pretty silly and I had some reservations about the writing style, too.
The plot revolves around Ben, a struggling screen writer whose script is accepted by a billionaire tycoon and so becomes swept into the glamorous world of the super-rich...but is there Something Sinister underlying all this? I won't say more to avoid spoilers but it's pretty standard potboiler stuff and it isn't the remotest bit plausible. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is far too long to be sustained by such a flimsy story. Almost nothing but scene-setting happens for the first 200 pages, I genuinely groaned later on at the thought that there were *still* 150 pages to go and the ending is frankly ridiculous.
The writing is adequate but no more, and often rather lazy with stale phrases like "a dab hand at..." or people "puffing away merrily" on expensive cigars creeping in regularly. Mills is at pains to show us how much he knows - not always successfully - so we get lots of little vignettes which add nothing at all to the plot in which people play rugby and cricket ("centre stump"? - I don't think so, Mark), visit museums and have discourses about the artefacts and so on. He also cannot resist telling us what he has just shown us, so after a bit of dialogue he has to say things like "He had successfully deflected the conversation away from the subject," when that was obviously the whole point of what I had just read. This, and laboured references to literary and artistic works left me feeling rather patronised a lot of the time.
Mark Mills is capable of much better than this. I'd say it was OK as a mildly diverting beach read but not much more.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A surprise for struggling screenwriter Ben Makepeace. Out of the blue, after over thirty years, ex-schoolmate Victor Sheldon (Jacob Hogg that was), now fabulously wealthy, wants to convert his latest script into a film. Ben is to be taken under his wing and much money steered his way. Too good to be true? The novel's cover suggests sinister intent....
So, a psychological drama full of suspense and chills? Actually not. Instead for well over four hundred pages the narrative jogs along amiably as Ben relishes the good life, with just an occasional hint all is perhaps not as it should be. Flashbacks to schooldays indicate little to justify any carefully planned revenge. (School bully Michael Kramer would have more cause - forever an object of ridicule after Ben hit him on the nose.) Trying to create tension, chapter headings seem to represent a countdown to showdown, a challenging climax.
Meanwhile Ben generally relaxes, activities including a pub cricket match.
This seems a far cry from what readers are led to expect. For great stretches here so little of consequence seems to happen, this severely reducing intended impact. Some may wonder if the eventual outcome justifies the hype - the main theme better suited for a powerful short story, provided Victor's motivation is made more convincing.
Although disappointed, I enjoyed the book's disarming style. A special strength throughout is the dialogue: the banter between Ben and sculptor Mol; his exchanges with son Toby. There is, though, no disguising a feeling of let-down at the end of it all.
(Ironically Ben's film script about two gangs dumped on a remote island seems full of promise.)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I have liked all the novels by this author so far and was intrigued to read this latest book, a new departure for Mark Mills with a foray into contemporary fiction. Ben Makepeace is a recently divorced scriptwriter, with a thirteen year old son, Toby. His ex-wife is married to a much more successful man, and he feels that neither his career or personal life is really going anywhere. Then, suddenly, he receives a call from his agent informing him an incredibly wealthy hedge fund manager is interested in bankrolling one of his scripts. Ultra wealthy businessman Victor Sheldon, owner of the luxurious Stoneham Park - just one of his homes - turns out, however, to be a man that Ben knows well. Years ago, Victor was named Jacob Hogg, and he was at prep school with Ben.
This wonderfully written novel drifts from events in Ben and Jacob's childhood to the current time, when Ben is suddenly catapulted into the world of money and success. Everyone at Stoneham Park, from the chef to Molly the sculptor, seems to be in Victor's debt in some way or other. It is an alternate universe for Ben - wealth, an easy life after so many setbacks, a chance to have a successful career, to prove himself, to find love again.... Yet, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is, and, before long, Ben is having doubts about his new career path and about Victor's motives in offering them. Mills edges up the tension wonderfully, as the book builds towards a climax, which, well, sadly lets the novel down slightly. However, although the ending is more a whimper than a bang, the book itself is a very enjoyable read. Good characters, an interesting storyline and a plot which races along and keeps you guessing; making me glad that I had read it and looking forward to the next offering from this talented author.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I would have been much happier awarding The Long Shadow 3.5 stars rather than a straight 4. The strength of the novel is undoubtedly the quality of the writing and depth of the planning by Mark Mills. There's so much going on in this story of lies and deception and Mark Mills handles the twists, turns and differing time frames well without losing control of the plot. Unfortunately; his lead character, Ben, isn't particularly believable and I had to suspend too much disbelief to stay in contact with this dreadfully passive/aggressive man who seems blind to everything around him apart from his own greed and grief.
Ben's relationship has collapsed and he's lost his wife and child to a wealthy city type who can provide them with all of the things he can't and I just wanted him, just once, to scream and shout and be really, really angry. He doesn't, he just puts on a brave face, plods along and I began to lose interest in him even when he does, eventually, begin to wake up.
The main story kicks off when Ben's invited to the home of a disgustingly wealthy would be producer, Victor, and it just happens, far too conveniently, that they knew one another as children and now this new/old friend seems to want nothing more than to bankroll Ben's anything but successful writing career. From here on in I'd have been asking myself a great many questions about what and why, anyone would, but Ben carries on in his own unseeing fashion becoming deeper and deeper immersed into the wealth and society of his new/old friend without questioning his luck. Lesson to Ben - when it seems too good to be true, that's because it is!
I'd guessed where Mark Mills was leading me and more or less where the 'shock factor' would come from and I wasn't surprised. What an odd novel. So well written and packed with threads and plot turns that mostly work but it's just flat and I was disappointed.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is one of those novels where the truth gradually gets revealed as the chapters unfold, and I loved it!
I have read two Mark Mills novels before and must say that I am impressed. His writing is impeccable, his plots are smooth, there is little to fault in this novel at all. Mills is writing in the present in this story, post economic crash.
Two childhood friends. One successful and ambitious, the other intuitive and unpredictable. The first is Ben, the main character in the book, and the second is his friend Jacob. Years have passed and now Ben's early promise has faded. His career is unsuccessful and his marriage broken. Meanwhile, Jacob is a multi-billionaire with money to spend, some of it on Ben, it appears. Jacob, now called Victor, is prepared to rescue Ben's career and let him live a life of style, but why? The two of them spent vacations together, but were they really that close?
As the novel progresses, we find there are inconsistencies in what is happening to Ben. He must get to the bottom of these before he can work for Victor, and solving these inconsistencies is what drives the plot in this book, leading to the final showdown or reconciliation; you will have to read it to find out which.
A thoroughly good book, should win loads of awards but probably won't. Sad, really.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A writer writing about a writer, eh? Now there's a new concept. That slight niggle aside, The Long Shadow is a classic Mark Mills book in many senses - deep-seated betrayal being a major factor in both the plot and the make up of the two main characters Ben and Victor. If you've read Mills before - and I still think his best is his first The Whaleboat House - you'll probably work the ending out quite quickly, but if you're after a highly developed and water-tight plot, I'd go for Le Carre.
All in all a good read, and one I'd recommend to his fans.
Having previously read 'The Savage Garden' by Mark Mills, I was looking forward very much to reading 'The Long Shadow'. Ben and Jacob were at school together, competed against each other, and were thrust into each others' company and classed as friends by others. Jacobs' parents were out of the country a lot, and so Bens' parents offered to have Jacob stay with them, so that his education need not be disrupted. Ben is an intelligent, easy-going boy, and his father is a man who pushes him, academically and physically, and finds him wanting. Jacob is a boy who knows how to make himself ingratiating, but is very competitive. Being pushed into each others' company makes the boys realise that they have little in common personality-wise and character-wise. Flash forward 30 years, and Ben is now a writer, divorced, with a son, Toby. He is head-hunted by a billionaire, Victor Sheldon, and invited to his palatial home in Oxfordshire to finalise the buying of his script. Victor is highly successful, has everything, and is extremely generous. So why is Ben uncomfortable about the amazing doors that are opening for him? Why does he feel that Victor is not all that he seems to be? Victor is ruthless, as he has to be to stay at the top of his game. Ben knows, and understands this, so what is it about this mans' generosity that eats away at Ben? There is always a price to pay for success, but does that really mean that everyone has an ulterior motive? The past has a way of coming back to haunt us, whether we realise it or not.
I found this book a little difficult at times, I think perhaps the continuity was at fault, but since this was a free proof copy, I'm sure that the actual finished product will make more sense. I liked the story, the concept was very good, and the book kept my interest.
Ben is just an ordinary guy, battered and beaten by a recent divorce, trying to keep up with his young son; not much enjoying the single life in a boring flat. He is a scriptwriter, with a sideline in detective novels, and it's his inner sleuth he needs to channel when life suddenly becomes more complicated.
Moving between prep school days and the present, Ben finds his most recent script unexpectedly in demand. His agent tells him some good news; a multi millionaire business angel wants to make it into a film. The man himself suggests lunch in a top establishment. He also has a mansion, in Oxfordshire, where Ben can work.
It's no spoiler to say that Victor Sheldon is in fact Ben's old mate Jacob from prep school days, his name now upgraded to a more suitable handle. Daydreams are quickly realised, their renewed partnership seems set for success. Then the doubts creep in and there is a strong smell of danger. Ben is being manipulated, by a master. Revenge is a dish best served cold... The complex plotting can be countered, if Ben can think on his feet. His new relationship with Mo, the feisty sculptor, also working at Stoneham, helps when she becomes more than a friend.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story, especially the short section set on Lake Como. It is the kind of book you yearn to get back to and follow with rising excitement. It reminded me of Barbara Vine. In fact this story of a scriptwriter would make an excellent script itself, for tv or film. My only regret is that the suspense is rather ramped up by the titles of each chapter to a crushing finale which was a tad lame. Hoever there are some thoroughly likeable characters to get involved with and justice appears from an unexpected quarter.
on 14 October 2013
Looking back through my reviews, I noticed I'd previously 'done the business' on Mark Mills' 'The Information Officer', which I considered to be a worthy book, but too dull for my tastes. I also thought the same of his 'The Savage Garden' (despite a citation from Richard & Judy!). However, there's no way I could level that criticism at his latest novel, 'The Long Shadow'.
Ben Makepeace is in his early forties and a screenwriter, down on his luck both professionally, and in love - his wife has recently divorced him, and taken their son with her. To add insult to injury, the new man in her life is not only a lot better off than he is, but Ben actually LIKES him - and the feeling is mutual.
Then, out of the blue, Ben's agent informs him of a party interested in turning one of his scripts into a movie and furthermore, they're willing to pay quite handsomely for it. A meeting is arranged and Ben goes to meet the party - Victor Sheldon, an American billionaire - only to find it's his old school friend Daniel!
Daniel invites him to his mansion and Ben becomes intrigued by a lovely female artist who lives in an apartment/studio in the grounds. However, gradually, Ben becomes unsettled by small things that occur after he moves into the mansion - ostensibly for rewrites - and then finds that things aren't quite what they seem ...
The story see-saws back and forth from Ben's time at the mansion to various points in their schooldays together which helps set in context what's occurring in the present day.
For a 'thriller', this is fabulously well-written - stylish, even - and contains levels of subtlety lacking from the majority of books in the genre. It gives up its secrets slowly and it features a devastating 'reveal' near the end; it should be high on the reading list of any fan of modern fiction. Unreservedly recommended.
'Some memories take on a dreamlike quality with time: illusory, yet somehow more real than anything the waking world has to offer.' Mark Mills opens his latest novel with a memory from the boyhood of his narrator. Two boys pull a sledge up a slope on a day with a 'preposterously' blue sky. Tension is built as we realise just how steep the slope is, and then 13 year old Ben Makepeace watches his friend Jacob Hogg sledge a dangerous corner and come off at the worst place possible. It's a wonderful opening scene - great action, rivalry between the boys and the guilt associated with other people choices. It's a good way to set up a novel about how certain seemingly small decisions made in adolescence can have a lasting effect.
I have been a fan of Mark Mills since I read The Whaleboat House and also liked Amagansett Mills, Mark ( Author ) May-01-2005 Paperback,The Information Officer and The Savage Garden. These have all been historical and literary crime novels and very successful in terms of evoking time and place. This is Mark Mills' first novel set in the here and now. and he is equally successful at evoking a world where bad property decision can blight your life and where 'hedge fund whizzes' can build fortunes beyond understanding. The increasing gap between rich and poor in modern Britain is clearly drawn.
Ben Makepeace in middle age is a semi washed-up writer, divorced and trying to keep the respect of his adolescent son. The new backer of his promising screenplay is Victor, the wealthy hedge fund billionaire, now patron, and his old friend Jacob reinvented. The story unfolds as Ben is drawn into Victor's world and starts to remember more from their past relationship.
Mills is a good writer; his dialogue is excellent and he is very good on the power that comes with money and the impact of failure and regret in middle age My problem with the novel come with the gradual unwinding of the story of adolescent Ben and Jacob. It's fine for it to emerge gradually in the novel but it's not how Ben would have remembered it and that would have directed some of his early decisions in this narrative. It's long too at 464 pages.
A good holiday read but less compelling than some of his previous novels.