Written by Guy Adams — Max and Tom are, if not exactly a pair of wasters, then not far off. They both used to be actors and are certainly fond of a bit of drama, but neither has tread the boards for some time. Tom owns the Deadbeat jazz club, but he doesn’t run the place, preferring to leave that to others. They may not be alcoholics by medical definition, but a bit of lubrication is always appreciated.
They are a couple of knock-about guys who’ve been knocked around too much. In short, these deadbeats are, well, dead. Don’t let this put you off the book though if the recent trend in crossover crime fiction isn’t for you. The supernatural element is in truth barely evident, and what there is the ghostliness is more about providing a few jokes and keeping the plot moving forward.
After a drinking session, Tom and Max spot a coffin being taken out of a churchyard in the middle of the night, and when its lid falls off, they can see that the occupant isn’t ready for the grave. In their tipsy state, investigating the matter seems like a wheeze, but before they know it they’ve put themselves in danger. A medical insurance company is selecting victims from within its clientele, whose deaths can be faked. Minor symptoms are made out to be terminal by a corrupt surgeon,and the victims and their families are told to expect the worst. However, their deaths are faked, along with funerals. Then the victims’ organs are harvested for the black market, while the rest of their bodies disappear for good. The stakes are too high for witnesses and Max is caught (sort of) impersonating a corpse in order to expose the insurance company’s scam. It’s up to Tom then, with the help of his friends, living and dead, to rescue him.
Friendship and belonging are what this book’s all about. Tom and Max, and their friends, are all in some way outsiders, but that seems to bind them together. When Max is in danger, they all volunteer to help. Author Guy Adams has a lot of fun describing their rather amateurish attempts to save Max and when they have any success it’s more through luck than judgement.
The most satisfying element of the book has to be the friendship between the main characters. Tom has had longer to adjust to being dead and has rather taken Max under his wing. Mixed in with the humour and the violence are some quite tender moments, albeit in quite a bloke-ish fashion. Adams is very good at finding the humour within the story and it reminded me a little of the Ealing Comedies and the Keystone Cops.
All of this does come at the expense of the crime fiction angle, which seems to become – perhaps inevitably – of secondary importance. Anybody looking for a hardboiled or noirish vibe would be advised to look elsewhere. Those of you after some entertainment would find this a great disposable holiday read.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars