Charlie Hill is a middle-aged, former bookseller from Birmingham. His second novel, Books, is about a middle-aged bookseller from Birmingham who desperately wants to be a writer. The villain of the tale is a middle-aged author who pens cliché-ridden, horribly ordinary, but bestselling novels about middle-aged men and their mid-life crises.
At first glance, it might look like Hill is taking that old creative writing class adage of ‘write what you know’ a tad too far. And it’s true, he does. He also drags out many other tropes of popular fiction, and stretches them to the point where we cannot fail to see just how flimsy those plot threads can be. Hill expertly manipulates the formulas of genre fiction to deliver a carefully considered argument explaining not only why it can be bad, but that it could even be dangerous. And he does all this with apparently effortless prose packed with humour that is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.
With Dan Brown style short chapters, headed with titles that could come from episodes of Friends, our hero, Richard Anger, blunders drunkenly through the plot, sexually pestering research neurologist, Lauren Furrows, while supposedly helping her find the source of a series of unexplained deaths. Anger eventually discovers that the latest book by bestselling author, Gary Sayles, is so mind-numbingly trivial that anyone who reads it is in danger of dropping dead soon after. But time is running out – of course – as Sayles’s novel will be released to an expectant public in just five weeks’ time. Can Lauren and Richard save the day? Probably. Will the evil Sayles get his comeuppance? Very likely. Can the readers of the world be convinced to leave the trash behind and point their noses at something more neurologically stimulating? Who knows? Hill certainly makes a convincing case, although in this instance he was already preaching to a lifelong believer.
Any Cop?: Books is a funny, playful, poignant page-turner that you could easily get through in a single sitting. It’s the perfect read for a rainy Sunday afternoon, but its thoughtful message is likely to stay with you for at least the rest of the week.