Short Reviews

In the Rooms by Tom Shone and The Salati Case by Tobias Jones

In the Rooms
Tom Shone

Hutchinson, 352pp, £14.99
Patrick Miller is an obnoxious British literary agent who is working in New York. To save his foundering career, Miller tracks down the 1980s author and Salinger-like recluse Douglas Kelsey. He follows Kelsey into his AA meetings where he woos him, befriends some oddball drunks and, tediously, falls in love with a girl. When he eventually owns up to not actually being an alcoholic, the group, with soap-operaish predictability, assumes he is in denial and tries to save him regardless.

Alcoholism is a disease, “not an interior design choice”, says Shone; but not only is his novel patronising, it is emotionally redundant, offensive, inaccurate and, worst of all, unamusing. Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney have walk-on parts, but such literary namedropping merely compounds Shone’s tawdry prose: the sun does little but “cast” long shadows, and even though the story ends in 2008, John Updike (who died in 2009) is mentioned in the past tense. The irony is too pungent when Miller says: “Whenever one of my friends complains that they’ve read a bad book, I tell them they have no idea.”
Martin Hemming

The Salati Case
Tobias Jones

Faber & Faber, 256pp, £12.99
Tobias Jones’s 2003 book The Dark Heart of Italy detailed the crime, corruption and prejudice of Berlusconi’s Italy. His first novel is a crime mystery set in this same Italy – specifically Parma, where “the court case usually lasts longer than the sentence”. His private-dick narrator, Castagnetti, here engaged to find out whether a long-vanished heir to a family fortune is dead or alive, ticks all the boxes: he is the self-hating child of dead parents who shaves his head more often than his chin and has an idiosyncratic hobby (beekeeping). He is cynical (“Kindness and love always sound phoney to me”), sarcastic, violent and therefore great fun to be around, especially as the value he attaches to his own life is nil. Scenes and characters are introduced without fuss, the dialogue is quick-fire, and there’s the occasional evocative snippet of Italian thrown in. The Salati case stays the right side of convoluted – and, having solved it, Castagnetti will presumably be back.

Martin Hemming