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on 8 July 2002
There are many cliches in fiction, but perhaps none as familiar as the murder mystery where a group of strangers is gathered together, one is murdered, and after an eventful investigation, the detective gathers them all together to explain who did it. So much of a cliche, in fact, that few mainstream writers dare produce such a hackneyed plot any more. But Elton proves that there is life in old dog yet, as he realised the obvious ... the seeds of the cliche are being played out daily on our screen in the form of Big Brother. Merge these two together, and throw in a healthy dose of Elton's cyncism for the world of popular media, and we have a heady mixture.
The plotting and timing of the tale is flawless - with multiple flashbacks and points of view never interfering with a damn good yarn in which the reader yearns not only to find out whodunnit, but also who it was done to. The characters are caricatures, but none the worse for that. They perfectly match the sort of view we are given of the Big Brother housemates, and that is one of Elton's more serious points in a page turner which is clever, thought-provoking and above all entertaining.
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The last decade has seen an explosion in the faux celebrity culture, people famous and feted for being vacuous non-entities who have managed to get their faces on TV on some risible 'reality TV' show. The whole phenomenon is ripe for some decent satirisation, and here Ben Elton has taken up the gauntlet and given the whole genre the treatment it deserves.

We're all (painfully) familiar with the format of Big Brother. The set up is the same here - a house full of pointless narcissists obsessed with becoming celebrities locked in a house loaded with cameras, constantly being broadcast to the nation. Then suddenly, one of them is brutally murdered. Live on TV. But the murderer manages to remain incognito.

The book is very cleverly constructed - the time lines move around, one minute with the police investigating the crime, the next going back over earlier episodes of the series. We don't even get to find out who the victim is until half way through. The police investigation is nicely presented, as are the details of life in the house leading up to the murder. The identity of the murderer and the motives, though apparent from reasonably early on, are nicely revealed and there are no plot holes to speak of.

The real joys of the book are the characterisations and the behind the scenes look at the reality TV industry. Ben Elton manages to write all of the characters extremely well, from the vacuous inmates to the cynical and bewildered investigating officer Inspector Coleridge. Non e of them feel clichéd, and all feel like real people. And as for the descriptions of how the industry really works, it is a fascinating read!

On top of all this, the whole book is laced with Elton's bitingly satirical wit. Laugh out loud funny in many places, especially when taking a dig at the self deluded people who go in for these sort of things.

This is a book that works on several levels - the satire of the reality TV industry, the well constructed crime thriller and the excellent character study. Highly recommended.
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on 23 December 2002
Of the half dozen or so Ben Elton books that I have read, this is the best by quite some distance. I've always felt that reality television is creepy, and so I sympathise with the point of view that Elton conveys in the story.
The world he creates is not so far away from today's, and just a couple of steps short that of "Series 7 - The Contenders" (a film that I can't recommend highly enough). It's a story along a similar theme as Popcorn, dealing with the continuous pushing back of the boundaries of what it's acceptable for the media to broadcast. Elton's juxtaposition of stuffy, old-fashioned policeman Coleridge with the mindless, self-obsessed 20-somethings of the TV show highlights how much has changed in no more than a few decades.
It's a real page-turner. Having read the blurb before buying the book, you're obviously already going to be aware that there's a murder in a reality gameshow, but three quarters of the story lies between Elton re-stating that on page one of the story, and revealing who the victim is. I therefore spent as much time wondering about the identity of the victim as that of the murderer.
The two most important scenes of the story are handled well. The whole lead-up to the night of the murder still leaves me with a slightly uneasy feeling when I think of it - I can picture the scene in my mind so clearly. Likewise, the final act captures the drama worthy of the revealed truth. Maybe I was just being a bit thick, but I didn't work out who the murderer was until I saw it written there on the page.
Another thing I love about this book is the way he parodies the insincere, meaningless drivel of today's "yoof TV". Everyone is described as "brave" or "strong" or something equally inappropriate with such frequency that the terms become completely devalued.
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on 25 April 2002
One house. Ten contestants. Thirty cameras. Forty microphones. I bought this book, just to find out how the hell someone could get murdered in the "House Arrest" house, without anyone knowing about it.

When you peel away the wrappings, this book is a classic whodunnit. Ten people are in a house, and one of them is dead. One of the survivors must be the killer. But who is it, what's the motive, and why oh why wasn't it Woggle who was killed?

But whatever you do, don't simply peel away the wrappings. This is book is more than that. Ben Elton has stripped down the "Big Brother" phenomenon, and given it his treatement. The result is a satrical look at the whole state of affairs, through the eyes of those who love, hate, or take part in it.

This book is not just for "Big Brother" fans, detractors will be able to sympathise with Chief Inspector Coleridge, but it would help if you are at least familiar with it.
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on 24 November 2002
I have read a number of Ben Elton's novels and have always enjoyed them. Often, though, they are a little on the rambling side and could do with a bit of a trim. Not this one, though. It is a brilliantly plotted whodunnit and a wonderfully caustic dig at the reality tv boom, in which there is not an ounce of spare fat. I was still thinking about the ins and outs of the story days after I finished reading it, and heartily congratulate Mr Elton - I didn't think he had it in him.
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on 16 June 2002
I really enjoyed this book! As the story unfolded and the characters came to life, I could 'picture' in my mind, the members of the "Big Brother" house in the guise of those within "House Arrest". The mentality of the characters in the novel accurately reflected those in the real television programme and I could easily imagine such events taking place and, instead of being appalled at the sight of a murder, viewers' fascination would rise and the ratings increase. As I turned each page, the urge to find out 'whodunnit' became stronger and I found myself unable to put the book down for the last third of the book! Ben Elton at his best!
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on 10 January 2007
Set in the "Peeping Tom" house, 'Dead Famous' is essentially a satire on reality TV and especially Big Brother. Whilst in the house an "inmate" is murdered and the book follows the dectectives trying to work out "whodunnit". At first I thought the book would be a chore to get into as its time frame jumps around a lot and there are too many characters (many of whom are based on cliches) for the reader to get to know any properly; but it grew on me and I read most of the book in several 50 - 100 page sessions.

At times 'Dead Famous' made me laugh and it was reasonably well-written, sending up reality TV very well. It's certainly not a masterpiece though and was a little too long (nearly 350 pages) and not especially well paced. If you like Ben Elton's style or are interested in reality TV than it's worth a read, but probably not otherwise.
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on 5 September 2002
This book had me captivated from the beginning. It's exciting, amusing, witty and fast-moving, and especially interesting if you've watched Big Brother on TV. Considering I haven't been able to 'get into' any books for a while, I am very impressed with Ben Elton's book-I couldn't put it down! I think the fact that not even the identity of the victim is revealed until about 2/3 through keeps you reading...I have to admit it had me doing a bit of detective work myself! And some of the characters are excellent - Coleridge's lovable charater shows the ridiculousness of the whole reality TV situation, making the read even more thought-provoking, and Woggle is hilarious. Oh yes..does anyone else who's read this book spot the similarities between some of the contestants in House Arrest and the contestants in Big Brother 3? Think about it, it is intriguing!
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on 8 January 2002
After really enjoying Inconceivable and the Big Brother series I thought this book had to be a winner only to be disappointed. It isn't that funny and if you're a big brother fan you can see which of the characters from the series he has used, which I thought was cheating a bit. Worth reading if you're a Ben Elton fan but don't expect the emotional rollercoaster of Inconceivable.
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on 9 January 2004
This is the first Ben Elton book that I have read and straight off I'd have to say I enjoyed it.
I picked up a couple of previous novels of his years ago (Stark and Gridlock ?) , but found them too heavy handed...but this one worked better (for me at least).
A murder has been committed in a 'Big Brother' Reality TV show and the police are investigating it.
In terms of structure it is a traditional 'whodunnit'/ locked door mystery where we view events mostly as revealed by the video tapes being viewed by the police investigation team but we also get some 'behind the scenes' glimpses of other happenings just to keep the appetite whetted.
It is also a pretty well observed satire on reality tv in general, and Big Brother in particular. Neither the contestants, the makers nor even the viewing public get away unscorned.
It isn't laugh out loud funny, but it made me smile a lot as did the fact the the main character (and the only one portrayed as having any integrity) is the stuffy old policeman leading the investigation.
In summary
Amusing, keeps you guessing and well worth a read.
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