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Lost Bodies Paperback – 23 Jun 2011
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'Psychological thriller with terrific pacing, realistic dialogue and finely drawn characterisation. A fine addition to the Scottish crime scene.' BookRambler 'Manderson is able to control expertly, in his use of focalised and fragmentary narrative, [the] unfolding sense of the ordinariness of the monstrous, and the surprising and the slippery self-justificatory psychology of evil ... this is incredibly powerful stuff.' Paul Wright, New Writing in Education.
About the Author
David Manderson is an academic and novelist who teaches creative writing and screenwriting at the University of the West of Scotland.
Top customer reviews
I'm not the sort of person who normally buys crime fiction. Nor, I have to confess, have I been much of a fan of the whole James Kelman-influenced school of what Will Self wryly refers to as the "Scottish hard man novel". Kelman in turn was influenced by James Joyce who first hit on the idea of describing in minute detail every second of a day from the perspective of the interior of a narrator's mind.
Ironically this "stream of consciousness" storytelling technique is much more appropriate in David Manderson's book, for me, than it is for the humdrum events of many of Kelman's books, and the device progressively creates a gripping hold on the reader. The narrator of "Lost Bodies" is very gradually revealed as a serial killer of the most vicious and terrifying kind. The horrid colloquial phrase "sweating like a rapist" often comes to mind as we find our anti-hero constantly and narrowly evading the suspicion of friends, colleagues and police officers.
I normally disapprove of publishers distorting the content of a book on its cover blurb in order to boost sales, and indeed the tactic can often back-fire through disappointing readers and enraging reviewers. But in this case I can see a legitimate reason why the phrase "serial killer" and even the notion that the murderer tells the story, has been withheld. Oddly, and brilliantly perhaps, for a book about a Glaswegian Jack-the-Ripper, almost all sex and violence are completely absent from this book, forcing us to concentrate entirely on the psychological profile of a human being capable of such acts. Fans of Horror, looking for blood and guts will go away empty-handed, but those wanting to be deeply unsettled as to their perception of the human condition, will find much to make them think and shiver.
Who was it said that "the hallmark of true evil is its banality"? The propaganda posters of Hitler's Germany always come to mind at those words, but Manderson also seems to have taken them to heart as the key to the strange enigma of how murderous monsters can so perfectly camouflage themselves within ordinary urban or suburban life.
There are brilliant opportunities for biting social comment in this, which Manderson exploits subtly. Materialistic well-off neighbours boast about their foreign holidays and expensive cars and gadgets while completely missing the horror breathing right next to them, dropping clues like a wounded animal dying to be caught.
There is a key moment in this book when our anti-hero says:
"Christ if they only knew. One like him on every street-corner".
This is Manderson's fundamental message, driven home with the narrator's constant suburban gardening and apparent care for his poorly wife. As a study of evil, it could almost stand beside James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner, but I suspect that a police psychologist would confirm that its insights into the schizoid hypocrisies of a mass murderer are also highly relevant to real life contemporary cases.
The sexual aspects of the attacks, as I've said, are missing from the book, as if some kind of self-censorship is going on, and yet this is stream-of-consciousness, not a written confession in the manner of say: John Banville's Book Of Evidence (with which this book makes an interesting comparison). There may be a clue to a form of schizophrenia there, or at least a dangerous split and distancing between different halves of one mind.
Perhaps Lost Bodies does not seem at first to aspire to the "Literary" heights of Banville or (supposedly) Kelman, but it opts instead for an incredible rigour and discipline of method, and integrity towards its core material. The effect is claustrophobic and overwhelming. However, unlike overt Horror, Lost Bodies' message is an important and heart-felt one: that we are complacent if we think that murderers and rapists are somehow alien to ourselves. All men will find themselves glancing, at times furtively, at the more appealing curves and glimpses of flesh of passing women's bodies. From this disturbing undertow, Manderson constructs a carefully argued accusation that we are all capable of terrible things, given the wrong impetus, the wrong upbringing, the wrong opportunity.
The insidiously sprinkled women-hating thoughts of our anti-hero are kept back until well past half-way through the book, just as well since I for one would find it hard to willingly begin a book I knew contained them. Deaths read about in the papers, ones he has caused, are dismissed on grounds like "Kids were born every day, to people who didn't want them, beat them, gave them away. Life went on." We are left to feel the dismay and revulsion that our killer seems immune from. His self-pity and protestation towards the end that he has "never done anything wrong in his life, never hurt anyone", even as he approaches capture, seem absurd, laughable, and yet may well be ultimately consistent with the banality and mental bifurcation of an ex-army loner whose compulsion to kill lies beyond his own capacity for self-analysis.
This is a gripping book, but also a responsible one, armed with which we might all stand a better chance of understanding evil, or at least pathological killers. As the news bulletins keep showing us, darkness wears new and friendly faces every day, through which we need to learn to see more deeply. Expertly crafted book in terms of plotting and characterisation, "Lost Bodies" delivers directly to our sedate suburban doors the unpalatable message that monsters are humans waiting to be understood, and humans are monsters waiting to happen.
David Manderson's prose slits your belly like a murderer's blade. Stream of consciousness takes us closer to the main character than the sweat on his neck. This is an uncomfortable read that repels yet draws you back in so you can't escape. An incredible read. Lost Bodies absorbs the reader through every sensory detail and through Manderson's portrayal of the desires and frailties that make an ordinary man himself a victim.