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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very readabale mix of thriller / contemporary dark comedy of manners.
Very readable, well observed, satirically presented middle England social landscape, opened up by the act of violence which provides the plot. The 'depth' is in the social observation, highlighted by satirical distortion which sometimes verges on the absurd to portray the superficial and temporal nature of the comfortable affluence of a small cocoon in the Home Counties...
Published 9 months ago by Ariadne Aufnaxos

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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stylish novel - not sure about the substance
I have long been an admirer of much of Mark Lawson's work, including his incisive interviewing on TV. However, I found this novel ultimately disappointing, which is a shame because so much effort has clearly gone into creating it.

The deaths are made known to us in the first sentence, which also makes reference to `the country's sudden obsession with coffee',...
Published 10 months ago by Mike Davey


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very readabale mix of thriller / contemporary dark comedy of manners., 4 Oct 2013
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This review is from: The Deaths (Kindle Edition)
Very readable, well observed, satirically presented middle England social landscape, opened up by the act of violence which provides the plot. The 'depth' is in the social observation, highlighted by satirical distortion which sometimes verges on the absurd to portray the superficial and temporal nature of the comfortable affluence of a small cocoon in the Home Counties. This is not a Scandinavian thriller - the characters are caricatures as indeed is the social and economic context - but it pivots around the crime to provoke some (unanswered) questions about the 'something rotten' in contemporary times and mores. It is perhaps slightly longer than it should be but the story moves fast enough to want to get to the end.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex construction, completely current in content., 11 Dec 2013
By 
Mrs. Katharine Kirby "Kate" (HELSTON, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Deaths (Kindle Edition)
The Deaths by Mark Lawson

First! In a genuine attempt to be helpful I am going to offer up a cast list for you - something that is missing from the book and very sorely needed. (I got a quarter of the way in without untangling these awfully similar folk.) This list can be found in the comments section below, as I don't want to publish any spoilers or irritate readers who prefer to find out for themselves.

As to the story, well I assure you it is worth the effort of being introduced to the large cast. Totally up to the minute observations, preoccupations and attitudes. Twitter, Blackberry, iphone, mac books, posh coffee, flu pandemics fear, group pre Christmas shopping trips to Marrakesh, lady vicars, it's all in here.

There is a whiff of `A Casual Vacancy' blowing through it, as this follows similar themes of keeping up pretences, minor aspirations to be more like others around you than is possible, and insincere friendships, associations.

I was horribly gripped by the story, and carried my kindle around until it was done and dusted. It was helpful to keep a notepad to hand. Predicting who would do what and when became a puzzle worthy of a crossword compiler.

Embarrassingly, I thoroughly enjoyed the ghastly `Shaudenfraude' element. I recognised the characters, who are perhaps caricatures, but still stuck me as familiar. And, the true test of a good book, all the hours that we were separated, I was wistfully yearning to get back to `The Deaths'...

Great work, Mark Lawson, shame about some of the typos and mistakes but it raced along with me chasing behind. I shall be more observant of the people who use First Class rail travel!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping up with three lots of Jones', 5 Nov 2013
By 
Zola fan "Nana" (Hants, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Deaths (Hardcover)
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book and could hardly bear to put it down; at the end of each chapter I couldn't wait to know what happened next. The Deaths is a novel about four rich couples living in sumptuous homes in Middlebury, Bucks. They refer to themselves as `The Eight', mixing with each other most weekends and have, in the past, spent expensive weekends abroad together while their nannies stay behind tending the children.

The characters are very believable; each one is quite vile yet intriguing and I really enjoyed Lawson's style of writing and his subtle satire. Life for most of the wives consist of vacuous tasks such as `bidding' to order the latest must-have coffee beans for their very exclusive coffee making systems and ensuring that the nanny doesn't take her day off when it's not convenient to her employer. Husbands work very hard to maintain the luxurious lifestyles they have created for their thin and stylish wives - but get little free time to enjoy it all.

When the credit crunch comes, it is even more important for The Eight to maintain standards; credit cards are maxed out and Lidl groceries are packed into Waitrose bags. Social standing is vital among the group.

I found this novel very entertaining and although the title hints at the tragedy, I wasn't able to guess until the very end which house was going to be the scene of death and mayhem. I have given this a five star rating for the pleasure that reading this book gave me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eventually very good, 3 Nov 2013
By 
A. Skudder (Crawley, West Sussex) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Deaths (Hardcover)
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I found it a bit tough to get going with this book, but I'm glad I persisted because it became more intense as it went on, and by the end I was completely involved and dying to know what happens next.

I think the slow start was at least partly down to the trouble I often have getting to grips with large casts of characters and trying to remember which is which. In this case it was exacerbated by the fact that they are all superficially so similar. Maybe its a class thing but all rich people seem the same to me. In fact it wasn't until after about 100 pages that I was totally confident that I could remember who was married to who. At this point the characters which were previously interchangeable over-privileged symbols of excess started to become more distinct and interesting.

The nature of the story means that I have to be careful not to give too much away and a lot of the things I would really like to say about it would be quite big spoilers. When I started to get into it I was telling my wife all about it, knowing that she would never read it so I wasn't spoiling anything for her, and it is not often I feel compelled to discuss the books I am reading with her. It made me think that this might be a good selection for a book club.

I say that because there is a lot to discuss. For a start there is the structure which starts with the discovery of a dead family. We know they live in one of a group of four houses but we don't know which one. The timeline then jumps back to a few months beforehand and progresses towards the time of the crime with just a few chapters about the police crime investigation. As you begin to suspect the nature of the crime you start to work out which family will be the victims and there are plenty of red herrings thrown in. Beyond that there are also plenty of topics to discuss in relation to the characters and their lifestyles as well as the plot points and the terrific final page.

The book this reminded me most of is Capital by John Lanchester, or at least the chapters that featured the banker, for the way it gives a bit of an insight into how the other half live and even how money doesn't necessarily buy you happiness but just gives you further to fall.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murder by Recession?, 14 Sep 2013
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Lincs Reader (Lincolnshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Deaths (Hardcover)
The setting is a beautiful Berkshire village, a commuter village, on the London trainline. The characters are 'The Eight'; four couples who live with their assorted children and dogs in four wonderful houses. Houses that were built originally for the old aristocracy and have now been renovated and modernised to be occupied by the new elite. Bankers, financiers, doctors, lawyers, successful business people - these are the people that are reaping the rewards of the boom years. Seats in the first-class carriages on the daily commute, short breaks to Marrakesh and designer coffee - these are the important things in their lives. But things are changing in Britain, businesses are crumbling, the recession is hitting hard, how long can The Eight keep up their lifestyles, how long can they hide their problems from each other?

A terrible act of violence happens within the first few pages. One of the families is wiped out, a murder-suicide - the father kills his entire family. The mystery that the reader is faced with is which one of The Eight is no more? Mark Lawson has created an extremely clever, fairly complicated story here, but a story that is so compelling that despite the obnoxious characters, who I will admit that I hated from page one, it becomes one of those 'can't put down' books as the emotional fragilities and hidden secrets of each family is uncovered.

The world of designer coffee is central to this story. The reader is introduced to Jason, a delivery driver for CappuccinGo - an up-market drinks company who deliver their special coffee capsules to the new aristocracy. Jason has his own views about The Eight - they provide his living and he's grateful, but to him, this upper-class obsession with posh hot drinks is a real sign of the times. The coffee theme continues as the reader learns more about each of the families. Who managed to get the special limited-edition capsules this week? The reader is also introduced to the world of supermarket snobbery, and the temptations that arise when faced with the trusting 'scan your own' groceries.

This is a novel about the new rich, and also about how the new rich are becoming the new poor. The husbands in this book do not come out well, not at all. They are an assortment of characters, with different careers and very different bank balances, but their common bond is that they are all pretty vile. Their wives don't fare much better, on the whole they do a lot of doing nothing. Only Tom and Emily seem to have any redeeming features, she's a GP, he's ex military and they do seem to realise that life in the village is based on what people have instead of what people are. Despite this, they don't do anything to discourage the lifestyle and seem happy enough to be part of the elite.

The Deaths is very current, it deals with current situations and Mark Lawson has based his characters on people that he has come across in real life. For me, living in a small market town in the depths of Lincolnshire which is most definitely not on the commuter line, it was a revelation. I do not come across people like this, ever. Yes, I know they exist, one only has to read the newspapers to realise that. I'm pretty pleased that I don't have to endure families like this, I find them fascinating, but they would drive me mad!

Despite the obnoxious characters and their luxury lifestyles, I did get very emotional towards the end of the story. Mark Lawson exposes their vulnerabilities and their failings so well, that I shed a tear. Not for the characters really, but for the waste. The waste of their potential and the fact that their stubbornness and way of life prevented them from being honest, with themselves and with their friends.

This is a novel that raised so many questions for me. Despite having finished it over 6 weeks ago, the characters have remained in my head. I was very much looking forward to our Panel Discussion, which was lively and quite fascinating. Meeting the author was a bonus, and we were able to ask questions and get answers that only reinforced my feelings about the story.

I think that The Deaths will be a very important novel in years to come. It is a story of it's time, a social history for generations to come.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stylish novel - not sure about the substance, 16 Sep 2013
By 
Mike Davey (St Georges, Telford) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Deaths (Hardcover)
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I have long been an admirer of much of Mark Lawson's work, including his incisive interviewing on TV. However, I found this novel ultimately disappointing, which is a shame because so much effort has clearly gone into creating it.

The deaths are made known to us in the first sentence, which also makes reference to `the country's sudden obsession with coffee', in this case that being delivered to a wealthy household, who inhabit a Georgian building, near 3 others occupied also by other wealthy people. The 4 families all interact together, sharing social occasions and often, in the case of the men, the commute to work.

Throughout there are well drawn episodes relating to the police investigation, one which appears to be quite static, since there is no apparent mystery concerning who is responsible. This is not really giving anything away because the ultimate intention seems to be to show that the 8 adults really do not know as much about each other as they may have thought. The deaths are a device on which the author hangs the narrative and the rather sharp social comments.

The author makes some well observed points relating to a part of modern life but I just do not like the narrative style, which is often placed around set pieces e.g. a holiday abroad and finally a funeral. Unless my copy is flawed, there is at least one point where the narrative segues into another completely different episode.

There are many amusing rhyming phrases e.g. Annoy Tannoy but again, this is all about style over substance. For me, the main problem is that I just did not care about any of the characters, none of whom are memorable - and certainly not likeable, with perhaps one exception.

Overall, some sharp comments about modern life as lived by one sector of the population but not an engaging narrative and characters that will not remain with me.

On an incidental note, when I first picked this up I thought that I had been sent a copy of Julian Barnes `Love, Etc' because the covers are so similar.
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2.0 out of 5 stars The sledgehammer trumps the rapier, 19 July 2014
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This review is from: The Deaths (Kindle Edition)
I could give this book 1 star, because I thought that the premise was lazy and because it panders to stereotype, or 4 stars, because for all of that, it is eminently entertaining (if far too long).

The 1 star bit: Four wealthy families form a tigh-knit unit called (implausibly) 'The Eight'. They own the four largest houses in the village and choose to socialise and holiday together, which is odd because they do not appear to like each other. However, the novel opens with one of the four families being massacred, presumably by the father. So which of these 'perfect' families has the most tragic flaw?

Surprise, surprise, each of the four has its issues and none of the realities is as perfect as the carefully presented public veneer. Every middle aged, middle classed cliche is here - too much sex, too little sex, internet porn, sex with the wrong people (Lawson appears somewhat obsessed here, and careers worrying close to badly written porn on occasion, pornography, vapid, patronising wives, social snobbery, religious angst, money angst, philosophical angst, class angst and cretinous kids. That sounds like a lot? It is a lot - Lawson crow-bars every 'issue' of the day that he can think of. We get the inevitable Fred Goodwin-alike and even a politicians expenses scandal reference. It is like Lawson has got some kind of checklist of kneejerk rabble rousing 'ishoos', just to make sure that his own left-leaning credentials are satisfied. The result is a swollen, bloated novel, comfortably 150 pages too long.

And they are all awful. Of course they are, because the one prejudice that is socially accepted (even encouraged) in this country is that all wealthy people, especially 'poshos', are vain, shallow, morally bankrupt etc etc. A class of people with silly names for their genitals. So, if one of the women helps out in a citizens advice bureau, she has to come home and be revolting about the 'chavs' that she has spoken to. Are we supposed to believe that 50 year old middle class men really sing 'Common People' by Pulp when drunk at dinner parties and roll on the floor on their childrens' rugby trips? The tone of grotesque stereotype jar uncomfortably with the well-observed satire.

In an attempt to sidestep this accusation, Lawson alludes to it on occasion. So, in a novel whose raison d'etre is to mock the moneyed, we get a sneering reference to internet trolls enjoying one of the deaths as a cause for celebration that there is one less public school boy in the country. This is simply having your (organic) cake and eating it.

Another issue - Lawson seems unclear how wealthy his characters are supposed to be. One couple comprises a doctor and the head of a security company. Middle-England heartlanders, certainly. The 'super-rich', certainly not.

The positives - it is very readable and, on occasion, very funny and well observed. The capsule coffee-machine obsession, the obsession with Land Rovers, the requirement to have too many children and dogs of varying sizes and the fondness for Championship Manager, are all very recognisable. It's just a shame that Lawson didn't have the courage to focus on these and leave the satirical sledgehammer in its cupboard. Or to work out what point he is actually trying to make.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good social reportage but a less good novel, 5 Aug 2013
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Deaths (Hardcover)
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I was hoping for great things from this book. I think Mark Lawson is an excellent journalist and broadcaster and a brilliant cultural critic, and he has also written some of the best radio plays I have ever heard. Some of that comes through in this book, but as a whole novel I do have reservations about it.

Mark Lawson creates believable characters and has an exceptionally good ear for the way people use language. The book examines the minutiae of the lives of four rich families in Buckinghamshire, with some detail of the lives of others and a small amount of police investigation, which is actually very well done but is a very minor part of the book, and this is certainly not a crime novel. It is, as others have said, a piece of social observation of our time. It's often very well done with plenty of sharp insight and nice little one-liners like "...[he] blames Top Gear for the fact that so many British men now regard conversation as violently belittling banter." We get a decent portrait of the lives and attitudes of the wealthy, with their competitive one-upmanship and so on, but Lawson also throws in the points of view of a lot of other people and vignettes about disgraced but still greedy bank CEOs, MPs expenses, various kinds of on-line behaviour and a huge number of other modern social phenomena. He also takes incidental swipes at a lot of his own modern irritations like textspeak, the book group member who doesn't like a book because she wouldn't want any of the characters for a friend, the shallowness of a lot of theatre audiences...and so on and so on.

There is so much social detail that the book sometimes feels as though it's drowning in it all. The problem for it as a novel is that this almost completely swamps any real interaction or development in any of the characters. We see them mainly in a sequence of set pieces: on a pre-Christmas shopping trip to Marrakesh, on the train, at a Christmas party, at the Christmas morning service, shooting on a Sunday, walking the dogs... and so on and so on. (And I confess that I got to the stage where I was saying, "Oh, not blooming Waitrose again," although "blooming" isn't the exact word I used.) It's social reportage rather than a novel, and, although the reportage is very good, I found 500 pages of it is far too much to wade through.

The last hundred pages or so did pick up and were rather touching in places, and there's enough other good stuff here for me to (just) round up 3.5 stars to 4, but it's a long slog in places and, however much I admire Mark Lawson's other work, I can only give this a very qualified recommendation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Build My Gallows High, 22 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Deaths (Kindle Edition)
The "Deaths" of the title are revealed in the second chapter of this novel - but what is not apparent until late-on, is who has actually died. The murderer, though, is obvious from page one - It's Mark Lawson himself, who unflinchingly stabs-in-the-back the conspicuously-consumerist home-counties middle-classes as they struggle to come to terms with the recent recession. Our main protagonists, "The Eight" (as they self-refer) are four couples living in near-identical grand houses in a fictional village somewhere between Milton Keynes and the M40. Membership of "The Eight" dictates their social lives (endless dinner parties with the same guest list), their households (matching numbers/ages of children, nannies, pets and cars), their family ties (serial cross-god-parenting), the husbands' journeys to work (sharing a "four" in 1st class), business overlaps (a non-execship here, a scratched-back there), school choices (expensive) and their vices (pride, greed, avarice, adultery, in fact all of them). So they are all inextricably tied together in a claustrophobic noose of competition (all four families could easily have been called "The Jones'"), self-importance, entitlement and dismissal of the outside world. In short they need each other to bench-mark themselves, but the noose starts to tighten as the fall-out from the recession starts to bite - and fault-lines (previously glossed-over with alcohol, credit and excess spending) crack wide open as health. wealth and happiness all come under threat. Critics will dismiss the main characters as caricatures - they are, but they are wonderfully realistic caricatures, and first class carriages and private school parents' evenings are stuffed full of people like "The Eight". Mark Lawson must have ransacked his own social life for many of the all-too-accurate traits and trends, and it's ironic that the impending doom he builds up for "The Eight" is not dissimilar to what he has himself experienced at The BBC recently. This is clearly a salutary tale - not just of the Recession, but a reminder that while we all convince ourselves that we're busy building "Happy Families", we may just be building a giant gallows that it is impossible to come down from in one piece.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A better broadcaster than author..., 12 May 2014
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As other reviewers have summarised, 'The Deaths' follows the lives of four Home Counties families towards the heralded murder scene, presented in occasional flash forward. There are some nice touches - the mystery concerning what has actually happened at the police scene (as much of a "who-done-what?" as a "who-done-it?") keeps a sense of intrigue going throughout and the experiment with multiple narrative voices is partly successful. Where the book fails, however, is in it's desperation to hammer home some fairly banal points about the lives of the Waitrose/shooting/boarding school set.

Lawson cleverly tries to undermine a standard knee-jerk criticism to this type of fayre when he voices one of his own characters complaining of her own book-club fodder that she just "didn't like any of the characters". However, what he fails to mention is that it isn't just the 'likeability' of the characters that makes a novel good or bad, but whether the reader has any sense of being invested in their progress. In the case of 'The Deaths' I found pretty much all of the central characters loathsome, but this wouldn't have mattered if there was some substance beneath a simple grotesque caricature of privilege. There are obviously works of art which hold a mirror up to society through character studies of the most repellent anti-heroes (American Psycho, Taxi Driver etc.) but The Deaths has little to tell us about Cameron's post-Blairite Britain beyond some fairly generic and well-trodden sneers.

Even this would be forgivable if the central mechanics of the 'whodunnit' were more sophisticated. Yes, there are a few red herrings along the way, but the overwhelming sense of "cop-out" as the tale reaches its conclusion left me feeling I'd spent a lot of time in the company of some fairly unpleasant caricatures with very little pay-off.

All in all, a disappointing purchase. Mark Lawson is an excellent critic and broadcaster. Unfortunately, on the evidence of this novel, he is some way short of being an excellent author.
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