Christopher Fowler – PsychovilleJanuary 27th, 2010 by James Staynings
And you thought your neighbours were murder.
I found this book on an empty shelf (second hand I might add) last year while visiting a book warehouse near my college. It didn’t appeal to me at first, mainly as I had some authors and titles already in mind, but something about it appealed to me. Whether it was the cover, the praise it had from some nut’s magazine or the fact I was against the clock in a crowd of a few hundred people who might also want it, or the fact that it was free, I have no idea. Oh, I forgot to mention this place had gone bankrupt and like the book vulture I was/am, I was searching for some good reading. And I’ll tell you what…I got more than I bargained for. For a free book from a writer I’d never heard of, I certainly gained a lot.
The novel itself focuses on the childhood and adulthood of the disturbed protagonist Billy March; a horror book fanatic whose childhood and family are ravaged by bullying, fighting and abuse, all from the neighbours from hell in their new home. The twist is, their neighbours are a mix of stone cold middle class and new money snobs who will seem to stop at nothing to pushes the March’s back to the slum they came from before their ‘commoner’ ways spread to the rest of the neighbourhood. The Marches are plagued from the off by insult after insult and trouble after trouble, from the neighbours first trying to alienate Billy’s mother at work and lying about a hazard which caused her to break her leg to running over Billy’s dog. The only comfort Billy finds is in two more social outcasts, Olly, the morbid and death obsessed son of a funeral director and April, the self described Carrie, whose mother is believed to be a witch.
Set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s reign of terror against the poor folk of Britain, (remind me to never have a political discussion with you! – Ed) Fowler wonderfully fuses a dark twisted nightmare with laugh out loud satire. Not only does it insult the middle class stereotypes and snobbery in the first half of the book, but in the second half, the writing will make you actually feel sorry for them, especially as Billy and April return to repay the town for destroying their lives…
It really is a book of two halves, the first half more than a few laughs, it’s also a lot of anger you’ll feel when the bullying and the so called ‘accidents’ start. The opening chapter will drag you in, as an adult Billy describes how to make a bomb, because it helps distract him from dumping the body of one of his victims. The first half is an incredible read, the neighbours become more than caricatures and just when you think Fowler’s pushed it far enough, he keeps on pushing until you want Billy to exact revenge.
The second half focuses on Billy’s adulthood, now a handsome man with money he’s unreconcilable and when he finds April, now a psychologically scared individual, it’s pay back time. The two get married, change their names and move back to the town that made them and find nothing’s changed. What’s been voted the best town in Britain is about to brought to the brink of destruction. A clever device Fowler uses in the first half of the book is putting weird news stories of bizarre crimes and events which are 100% true at the start of the chapters, but which are replaced in the second half by Billy’s diary entries; you really do see through the eyes of a killer. As Billy begins tormenting his old neighbours you may laugh, but when he starts killing them with everything from the conventional knife in the back to poisoned milk, it’s certainly enough to give pause. The pace of the murders occurs over a week, the police are everywhere as neighbours go missing or are found dead you wonder if Billy will finish what he started. Yet there’s a reporter on the trail who knows Billy might have something to do with. The second half delivers on action, murder and excitement, but a major plot twist will either make you love the story even more or dislike it for the abruptness (it had me doing both) and doesn’t seem to create the same impact as the first half did. It might be my blood lust but the murder scenes are ingenious but at the same time you wanted something more. The ending will blow you away and carries a true message that will leave you speechless.