Monday, April 14, 2008

NEWBIE REVIEW #5 - The Deadstone Memorial

Still soldiering on through the old-skool memories of thinking anyone would care about this stuff, and being too polite to say anything was 'shit'. Ah, the young innocent me... where did he go? Why did he vanish off the face of the Earth on Saturday June the 4th 2005 at precisely 6:30 pm GMT? One of the enduring mysteries...

A mystery that won't endure is what I wrote about this thing a couple of years back (Beautiful segue)..

The Deadstone Memorial by Trevor Baxendale

This is a book that smothers you in atmosphere from the get-go, and I have to say I was delighted to discover this. The opening scenes, featuring the shadowy Old Man Crawley are ominous, and then we flash-forward into a night in the McKeown household, where the atmos piles up, erupting in some truly violent and haunting Exorcist-style scenes where the youngest Cal appears to be possessed and bleeds from his eyes, screaming out into the night. Phew! After mother Hazel rings up the hospital she finds a rather peculiar doctor on her doorstep - guess who?

After a while the action cuts forward again - to Bernard Harris, local school teacher, jogging through the forest as he does every morning. But this time he finds a surprise - a young girl and a middle-aged geezer in a leather jacket who do a pretty poor job of interrogating him. And I have to say I didn't cotton on at first, but these two are none other than Fitz and Trix, working on the Doctor's orders.

I was very impressed with this book - introducing the characters into the drama so effectively, with such a gritty feel... but right after this the books big problem reared its head. Padding. You see, in spite of the fact that we have met the Doctor and co. and know what they're doing we're given a pointless flashback sequence of the TARDIS dematerialising on Earth. And this book, sadly, has a lot of similar pointless sequences that spoil the great atmosphere built up.

The book is good because Baxendale - whose other works were apparently more 'epic' in scope - has decided to utilise a small cast and a bundle of settings, just like in the classic series. So for characters we get the McKeowns - Hazel, Jade, and Cal - plus Bernard Harris, Old Man Crawley, and two gypsies. And that's basically it. Likewise, the story takes place in the woods, in town, and snatches in the TARDIS. The problem is that this has to fill 280-something pages - so there's lots of padding. Some of it - like the Doctor jumping up to the roof of the McKeown's house and daring Hazel to touch the stars - works wonderful, and you barely notice it's there. But a lot of it is handled by long sequences of running around that might give you flashbacks to Nightmare of Eden - one critic noted that in that story the Doctor sets out four times to 'separate the ships'. Well in this, you could start a drinking game for every time the Doc decides to a) Look at the memorial, b) Talk to the gypsies, c) Try and find Crawley. At points it really feels like a real runaround.

This is a shame, because the book has a great many moments of brilliance, and all the characters are endearing and well-realised. Its only real flaw is that there simply wasn't enough plot to justify its length which strikes me as a real shame - other BBC books have been only 240-odd pages, why couldn't this one be? All the same, there's plenty to enjoy here (especially Fitz and Trix, who have a great rapport) even if the ending isn't particularly mind-blowing. 7/10


I mentioned that the ending was crap, but didn't say why. It's almost like a deus ex machina to explain away any weird shit - oh, yeah, an alien landed here like 200 years ago. Which made this guy immortal and crazy and shit and that's why he can't die and the kid's dying and what the fuck ever I've filled up 260 pages now no more effort required on my part.

So now, whoa shit the Doctor's got to kill the alien to save the kid but the alien's like invincible and shit man this is amazing stuff I'm typing, so the Doctor goes into psychic mindlock with him or whatever AND HE DISAPPEARS! OMG THE DOCTOR'S DEAD AND SHIT!

No he isn't. We all know he's going to be Christopher Eccleston in a month's time, what the hell are you trying to prove, Bax? The Doctor just vanishes for a week then comes back with no real explanation. Oh, and the alien's dead. BIG FUCKING DEAL.

What was with the memorial? The Doctor goes and looks at that so many times. And it felt like Baxendale was taking the piss because they just kept finding bits that had been covered up by dirt and stuff. WHY DIDN'T YOU EVER LOOK AT IT PROPERLY IN THE FIRST PLACE? It reminded me of that Halloween episode of the Simpsons where Lisa and Kang and Kodos keep blowing dust off the cover of "HOW TO SERVE MAN", revealing more and more ridiculous titles.

I think I was mostly impressed by the way that the story was compartmentalised so well into a limited series of contemporary locales... I think this was before I'd seen any of the new series, so I was easily impressed by stuff like this. In truth, by this stage the NAs and others had probably done this a lot better.

It is actually quite a superficially stylish book, this. But the plot really is utter shit, something that I shied away from in ye olde review. 5/10


Youth of Australia said...

I quite liked Deadstone, but I'd be lying if it WASN'T a total runaround. Though I dipped in and out when reading it, and I got a contact high from The Tomorrow Windows...

It's got a few good spooks though - amazing how effective "when they dug him up, he was the wrong way round" stuff is - and the Domestic Approach was surprisingly forward looking. Nice idea that this particular ghost isn't just an alien but an alien ghost.

I know that the TARDIS scenes were added to give a kind of Logopolis-vibe to the last few books. That's why the Doctor's so restless and irritable, and why the ghost of the Ninth Doctor haunts the console room, winning games of chess...

Baxendale's good at this superficial thrills, which can be great if you're sick of people trying to out Laurence Miles each other, or out Dave Stone each other.

The Dave Stone Memorial, that'd be a good idea for a book...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Yeah, I did actually like the book, too.... it's just that everything good about it was superficial creepy stuff. I mean, if that's all you want (and I imagine to a lot of people it is..) then it's a great book. But I really did think the ending was terrible.

I like Dave Stone myself... I don't get any sort of smug vibe from his books. I'm sure he knows that it's all very silly what it's writing, but he doesn't really care. It certainly isn't subtlety but I think he softens all of the in-jokes and references by having them in a sea of odd stuff where they feel right at home... other writers *cough Nev Fountain and Paul Magrs cough* really hit you over the head with the injokes and it's just plain irritating.

Youth of Australia said...

Yeah. With Stone, it was only The Slow Empire I didn't like. The footnotes were more interesting than the novel.

Cameron Mason said...

have you read Dave Stone's Benny novel Ship of Fools?

He does a brillaint piss take of Mis marple and Hercule Poirot...


Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Well, if you're talking to me I haven't even looked into the details of any of the various Benny books and spin-offs because I find the character faintly amusing and nothing else, making the books seem to me a complete waste of time.

No offense intended, of course.

Youth of Australia said...

I saw it for sale in the 2 dollar shop once.

I got The Masters of Luxor instead.

I don't regret a THING!

Frankly, The Sword of Forever sounds much more interesting. And I'd finally have a whole month's worth of Who merchandise - Planet of Fire VHS, The Scarlett Empress, Last Man Running and The Sword of Forever! Reviewed by Dave Owen in his famous Nude phase when Paul McGann kicked Nick Briggs out of the comic strip and restored sanity to the world.

Cameron Mason said...

No offense intended, of course.

None taken.

Still, Ship of Fools features Agatha Magpole who must wear a special hat, otherwise she subconsciously influences people to commit murder; and Emil Dupont, who comes up with more and more outlandish theories for crimes until the real culprit can't take it any more and confesses, if only to shut him up.

The Sword of Forever sounds much more interesting.

Believe me, it is one huge head screwing novel.


Youth of Australia said...

From what I heard she gets married to a bloke covered in tatoos, poses naked with a camel for post cards, enjoys crack cocaine, meets a talking dinosaur and travels to post-Dalek France.


I haven't heard an itinerary that fucked up since the Blues Brothers!

Cameron Mason said...

From what I heard she gets married to a bloke covered in tatoos, poses naked with a camel for post cards, enjoys crack cocaine, meets a talking dinosaur and travels to post-Dalek France.

That's only the start of the story.

You won't believe how it ends...