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necropolisWritten by Guy Portman — Dyson Devereux is Head of Burials and Cemeteries for the local council of a fictional town in Essex, England. He has risen without trace, mainly due to the demise of his predecessor, whose funeral and cremation he helped organise. Dyson is immensely vain, impossibly handsome, and totally without compassion for his fellow men and women.

However, he has learned all the stock responses normal people exhibit in their daily lives. He can do a very good ‘concerned’, his ‘warmth’ is totally convincing, and his ’empathy’ has been praised in the highest quarters. Dyson Devereux is – depending on your understanding of the terms – either a sociopath or a psychopath. Which of the two he is, doesn’t really matter. What does is that Guy Portman has self-published an excellently honed crime novel in Necropolis.

Devereux analyses those around him, compartmentalises them, but seems not to wish them serious harm. Unless they happen to be Kiro Burgan, a mysterious gravedigger at one the cemeteries Devereux oversees. Burgan might be an alias for Darko Draganovic, a notorious escapee from the Balkan crisis of the 1990s who is now an international fugitive wanted for genocide and human rights abuses. He is identifiable mainly through his exotic tattoos.

Devereux learns that a group of survivors in Zagreb is offering a huge reward for Draganovic’s capture. He uses a Somali internet cafe to communicate with the genocide avengers, but also hatches a plan to dispose of a particularly loathsome Sierra Leonean drug dealer called Blood Letz, who has his hooks into Eva, with whom Devereux has a relationship.

The book is full of razor-sharp satire. No politically correct madness escapes unscathed, and no sacred cow remains un-butchered and served up in freezer packs. This is a vitriolic and brilliantly funny book, with many laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Devereux describes the gross bad taste of one of his customers. “A hearse pulled by two horses is approaching. The horses’ coats have been sprinkled with glitter, and their manes dyed pink. They look like colossal My Little Ponies,” he narrates.

While being outwardly polite and civilised, Devereux privately views his work colleagues as a cast of grotesques culled from a canvas by Hieronymus Bosch. He saves most of his homicidal fantasies for his immediate superior, Sunita, with her ‘large wiggling posterior’ and the Bindi on her forehead. In his fantasy he says it might be the entry wound of a bullet…

Devereux – particularly at work – might seem like a modern Mr Pooter with his observations on the minutiae of everyday life, but there is more. When you read the book you will scratch your head and wonder where the crime is hidden amongst the cruel humour. Be patient, for when the crime does come, it comes not in a trickle but in a torrent. Necropolis is not for the squeamish. There is sex – vividly and intricately described. There is violence – just as shocking for the matter-of-fact nature of its description. Portman’s skill is that he spends most of the book making us laugh, but he sets us up nicely to be whacked over the head with a very blunt instrument in the final pages. This is as breathtaking, crazy and  different a novel as you will read all year.

Necropolis is released 24 April.

Guy Portman

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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