Countdown to a Killing

By Tom Vaughan Macaulay
Red Door Press £8.99
ISBN 978-1-915194-08-4

3 people who work together at a law firm in Gresham Street relate their lives and feelings through a series of online messages as they interact with each other and with long term friends and family.

All of the emails and What’sapp messages are one sided and without seeing the recipients responses you have naturally a one sided and potentially biased side of events.

What is clear is that the three main progtagonists are not the average person but all have flaws and seem to be surrounded by equally bizarre flawed people. The main protagonist is called Lomax Clipper, a name which would have resulted in relentless bullying (and I only went to a middle class Grammar School) at my school let alone the school he would have attended in Huddersfield his home town. Lomax works at a law firm in the City and has just returned from working in Palermo for a six month secondment where he had ‘enjoyed’ a rollercoaster romance with the mercurial Aurora, a beautiful communist who prefers to dress in rags and go on marches. Again one must be careful from the descriptions provided by Lomax but if true she is at best psychotic and at worst destructive and dangerous to know. Lomax has delusions of grandeur in that the novel he is working on will be a best seller. Naturally we never get to read any of it but the fact that it gets multiple rejections is a strong indication of his ability.

The second main protagonist is called Wen Li who actually opens the book with an email to a therapist that she has missed an appointment because she was worried she would push someone off the platform into the path of an oncoming tube train. She has OCD, a family in Brighton with her father being ill through worry that the family shop is failing (it is). Also the recipient of most of her messages, Hannah, a longtime friend is about to dish the dirt on her condition and later steal her boyfriend.
Throw into the mix Julian Pickering (their boss) who is in his mid fifties but still hasn’t come out of the closet and has a toxic relationship with his boyfriend Toby who doesn’t work, sponges off Julian and drinks to excess so much that he admitted to ‘The Priory’. No wonder that he throws himself out of a third floor window.

Not only these protagonists but also those they are interacting with, with the possible exception of Wen’s mother vary from eccentric to disturbed in degrees.
Suddenly at page 150 an entirely new character is introduced. It is no surprise that he too is as odd as the other characters. Fifi (usually a name for females or indeed poodles) is a dwarf who has been known to bite people. Since we only hear his side of the great ‘scandal’ we have to take on board his assertation that it was self defence but there may be more to it as his family has ostracised him. No his surname isn’t Lannister.

At various points a narrator steps in to remind you that there will be a murder and to set the scene for time jumps which average several weeks. This was quite amusing at first, but as the appearances gather pace they are met with gradual annoyance.

There is a death finally, but actually in the postscript and you get the feeling that the author has wound you up.

Epistolary novels have been around a long time with the most famous being Dracula by Bram Stoker and more recently ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ to name but one. It’s not a bad idea to bring this up to date and the author has woven the thread of contemporary platforms such as What’sapp and email skilfully enough and breaks them up well. He is also adept at evoking the backstreets of Paqlermo. This is a difficult read, primarily because there is no empathy with any of the characters, perhaps because the author feels a kindred spirit in the writing process he has made Lomax his lead, but it is difficult to feel empathy for a person who sends himself an email saying words to the effect of ‘happy birthday and you are a great writer’.

This is Tom Vaughan Macaulay’s second novel and an extract from his first is included, a trend I have not enjoyed, but it will give a btter idea of his style.