"The White Devil was performed in the Red Bull Theatre, an open air theatre that is believed to have specialized in providing simple, escapist drama for a largely working class audience, a factor that might explain why Webster's highly intellectual and complex play was unpopular with its audience." [from Wikpedia]
I really enjoyed reading this book, and not only because in the novel the reviewer who had given fictional crime writer Matt Wells a bad review met a grisly death. There aren't many crime novels that mention Ruskin Park, Brockwell Park, Herne Hill and Dulwich Village all of which feature in Paul Johnston's thriller. I lived overlooking Ruskin Park as does Caroline, Matt's ex wife, and his daughter Lucy in the book but left the area long before the birth date of the fictional crime writer. I must say in my time there was plenty of material in the adjacent areas to keep an army of crime writers busy for years.
This book certainly succeeds as a thriller with its chase for the maniacal serial killer, The White Devil. The killer is motivated by revenge for a dreadful childhood to murder those who have abused and annoyed him in the past. Our fictional crime writer Matt has written a series of well received Jacobean thrillers featuring an unsavoury detective Sir Tertius; taking inspiration from the plays of John Webster about "hypocrisy and corruption being justly punished." He has then moved on to write an very unsuccessful detective series set in Albania.
The White Devil contacts Matt, who has been rejected by both his agent, publisher and wife, in order to force him to write his terrible story, using threats to his daughter, mother and his girlfriend to ensure cooperation. The Devil is murdering those on his "death list" using the exact methods described in Matt's novels. He then begins to kill those about whom Matt has had revenge fantasies.
Paul Johnston wrote the highly acclaimed Quint Dalrymple series and won several awards, before he moved on to the Alex Mavros books set in Greece.
Has Paul Johnston also decided to create a pastiche of the extremely violent crime thriller, sending a message to publishers, reviewers, and even the reading public?
There was so much meaningless horrible violence that frankly I became anaesthesised, and just enjoyed some of the gloriously inventive cliches in the book.
We had it all from physically abusive fathers, school bullies, negligent doctors and sexually abusive Roman Catholic priests; then on to gay agents and fat degenerate reviewers; with a lesbian expert on Jacobean drama and a tough blond woman detective named Karen Oaten as a Jane Tennyson clone thrown in for good measure. Matt's ex-wife Caroline was of course a city high flier and his woman publisher, a man hungry bitch, while the White Devil had become wealthy by winning the lottery. This was surely satire with real verve, and chutzpah.
Yes, even the SAS had a prominent part to play, and Matt's assorted friends joined in to help him track down the White Devil in the manner of Bulldog Drummond, Algy, Toby and Peter chasing the elusive Carl Peterson.
You could drive a Jacobean coach and horses through the plot, and I spotted the final twist quite early on, but that was surely all part of the fun.
There is clearly a limit after which violence even the disgusting violence portrayed in this book, becomes background and just another part of the story. As a escapist violent drama it is good, but as satire and a pastiche it is a brilliant expose' of the crime thriller genre.
By the way just in case Paul Johnston did not like this review among my friends and associates I have an ex- army bomb disposal expert, a Japanese martial arts black belt, a former secret service bodyguard, and a security consultant.
pastiche: a literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly or chiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources.
satire: a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule