Killing joke

Scots-based Irish novelist M.S. Power talks to Alan Morrison about his latest book, in which the impulse to murder requires only the slightest nod of encouragement.

Murder is a funny business. Funny as in strange and for MS. Power, at least also as in darkly

humorous. The Dublin-bom author’s latest novel The Stalker's Apprentice recounts how Marcus Walwyn, a young reader in a London publishing house, kills his way closer to a girl he first spies on the Tube, prompted by an unpublished manuscript which acts as a catalyst to his latent desires. Marcus, smueg arrogant yet endearineg inventive, is a special type of ‘lovable rogue’ who oversteps the mark.

‘l wasn’t expecting people really to like Marcus, but I thought some of his observations were quite amusing. And he loves his mother,’ says Power, his tone more akin to that of a jovial uncle than the author of a twisting psychological thriller. ‘1 don’t want him to be totally hated, even though he is detestable. The line between obsession and actually committing murder is terribly faint, and I think certain people can easily be pushed. Marcus is probably an extreme case, but I’ve written on Northern Ireland [in the Children of the North trilogy] and I’ve met people who have killed, and they’re all really nice, normal people on the surface. Yet there's this thing behind them: that they’ve actually killed somebody. Marcus is a loner, he’s been used to getting his own way since his father died because he manipulates his mother very easily. There is, without getting too moralistic, a generation growing up who, if they don’t get their own way, do things that are violent. It's almost a malaise: if you

Power pulls the reader closer to Marcus, a spoilt child of his times, by writing about him in the first person, while allowing us a more analytical detachment during the episodes centring on the

".8. Power: ‘The line between obsession and actually committing murder is terribly iaint'

police investigation. By altemating the two styles, as the killer stalks his prey and the law stalks the killer, Power creates a cat-and-mouse game not only within the narrative, but with the reader’s sympathies. Thus

as a character study with dashes of black humour and as a tightly plotted thriller, where the cogwheels oi mounting unease mesh and click together like a combination lock.

The Stalker’s Apprentice succeeds both

study with dashes of black humour and as a tightly plotted thriller, where the cogwheels of mounting unease mesh and click together like a combination

The Stalker's Apprentice succeeds both as a character

The book is Power’s eleventh novel in ten years, and with the BBC’s TV dramatisation of Children of the North, his reputation is steadily growing; with three of his’earlier works currently in production for the small or large screen it will no doubt continue to do so (Power himself will be co-writing the screenplay for Bridie and the Silver Lady, to be produced by the Edinburgh-based Cormorant Films). The creatively fertile period he has enjoyed since moving to Galloway seven years ago can, he believes, be credited partly to Celtic affinities. ‘The Irish and Scottish sense of humour are not so far different,’ he says. ‘l’ve written four or five novels since i came here, but that’s nothing to do with the place I live in i can write anywhere, but when l’m not working it’s great to be able to wander out and feel comfortable. Glasgow's my kind of town: I can wander into the Hard Rock Cafe for an hour or so, and even though I could be everybody’s grandfather in there, I'm not made to feel out of place. They

. seem to accept you for what you are.’

The Stalker 's Apprentice is published by

can’t get what you want, take it.’


I Mainstream at £12.99.

marm- Martin’s gone

So lust how does Britain’s oldest eniant terrible illl the coiiers in preparation ior a hefty alimony settlement? Aiter all, your gristly, visceral, iorm-challenglng novel isn't thesortoithingyou canbashoutina couple oi months to keep the baiiiiis oii your back. llo, what is required is something Immediate, and preierably something already written (and paid ior).

llence Martin Amis tires the leai out oi many a middle-aged rock combo and schlepps out this uneven collection oi journalism, literary chat and lndulgences mostly drawn irom

his decade, the 80s; a compilation oi Amis oddities and B-sides that, essential as they are to the serious collector, should rake in a iew swiit

readies at sixteen quid a throw, without adding much to the sum oi human enjoyment.

The Amises at this collection are a motley crew spread over a decade in which their writer went irom the lean and well, pecklsh iconoclast who hated the Rolling Stones and didn’t much care ior Cannes, to the desperately demotic slummer revelling in the lard and lager oi a darts tournament. Whatever his subject matter, a knowing bookishness permeates the writing, his subjects always seen through a cloak oi solipsism. Darts champion Keith Deller is ‘genial, straightiorward, considerate, clear- eyed and charmingly uxorious’, blend attributes which Amis thinks worth emphasising.

lt’s pmlble to revel in the distasteiul aspects oi Amis’s novels

because you can always assume the authorial irony, mentally insert the inverted commas. In these writings Amis himseli is present to make the lapses oi taste and (lack oi) humility the characters commit in his ilctlon. Thus literary proilles oi Vera llabokov and John Updike stray well into the cosy sycophancy oi a sort that alienates the reader with its casual name-dropping, and tales oi literati playing snooker and poker together are laughable and rather pathetic. There are some redeeming gems, a crisp encounter with Graham Greene and some cuter observed sports writing, but this is Amis on lazy auto- pilot, constricted perhaps by the ]ournallstic term, but also betrayed by his own snebberies. (Torn Lappiu) Visiting Mrs Nabokov and Other Excursions. martin Amie (Jonathan

cm £15.99).

80 The List 22 October-4 November 1993