The Killings on Jubilee Terrace by Robert Barnard
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
"Ordinary people leading ordinary lives, which sometimes [...] get caught up in extraordinary events."
This definition of a TV soap comes from Robert Barnard's The Killings on Jubilee Terrace (2009), a mystery novel whose plot is set among the cast, directors, and scriptwriters of a fictional soap opera on British TV, called Jubilee Terrace, a not-so-subtle allusion to the long-lived Coronation Street series. The Killings is not a good book and, in fact, I was more than once about to toss it when struggling through the first 20 or so pages (and I am not a tosser: in my recent memory only two books out of well over a thousand infuriated me enough not to finish reading). The beginning of the novel takes a lot of goodwill to get through: the author introduces all 17 characters in short, intermingled snippets of prose and dialogue. Eventually the plot emerges, but it is quite boring until almost the end, when it momentarily picks up, only to get tangled in preposterous twists at the very end.
DI Charlie Peace from the Leeds CID appears at about one fifth of the novel: he is investigating an anonymous letter regarding the death of one of the actors in the show. The letter implies that the death that had been thought accidental might have been a murder. The plural in the title of the novel suggests further killings and indeed, they are delivered as promised.
The psychology is infantile and cartoonish: not a single character feels like a real person; they all are tired clichés. Mr. Barnard attempts to add a value to the novel by exploring the phenomenon of soap actors confusing their own lives with those of the characters they play but he is unconvincing in trying to portray the merging of their real personae with the TV ones. The effect is ludicrous: while the author lampoons the implausibility of the show's plot he manages to get even more implausible in his own plot. If he planned it this way, I am too obtuse to enjoy his subtle joke.
Close to the end of the novel, one can find two interesting passages: one is just a few sentences long and concerns the Romanian-born wife of one of the main characters. This is the only fragment of the novel that I have found realistic. The other interesting passage refers to a rather rare sexual deviation, but - although captivating - the theme does not match at all the light, chatty tone of the novel. About a page worth of interesting material in a 250-page novel is a rather low yield.
A disclaimer is needed: I am enormously biased against TV programs, in particular against TV shows, and in most particularly particular against soap operas. Only reality shows are farther from reality than soaps.
One and a quarter stars.
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