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Dead Writers in Rehab
Dead Writers in Rehab by Paul Bassett Davies
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At the start of Paul Bassett Davies new novel, Dead Writers in Rehab, Foster James wakes up to find himself indeed in rehab, to nobody’s surprise, least of all his own. He’s been in many such institutions in his time. But he’s not slow to realise there’s something rather odd about this one – which is hardly a spoiler, given the book’s title.

Perhaps the biggest clue is that the place is full of dead writers. Ernest Hemingway swaggers around trying to impress Dorothy Parker, who in turn seems intent on getting laid by all the available men. Coleridge, Hunter S Thompson, Colette, and more, are all mooching about, apparently very much alive – despite actually being decidedly deceased.

Step by step, we are drawn into a paranormal detective story. Why is Foster here? Where is he anyway? What’s actually going on? A story told, with great aplomb, in part through the hilarious email correspondence of his two therapists, who are clearly themselves in the throes of some conflicted and confused love affair.

To these tortured missives, Davies adds the clever device of having each character keep a therapy diary, which of course gives him a golden opportunity to spoof some very famous literary styles – an opportunity he grasps with enthusiasm and dazzling skill.

If I have one (tiny) cavil it’s that I would have liked the parodies to have spread wider. They’re such fun, you start to wonder what would have happened if the patients had included (say) Chaucer, Dickens and/or Raymond Chandler.

But that’s just me being greedy. Dead Writers in Rehab is a tour de force, a comedy with dark undertones and a pleasing nod towards one of my favourite British movies, which I can’t name because that would indeed be a spoiler.

The novel has been crowd-funded – by Unbound – and the edition I have is sumptuously produced, a tribute to crowd-funding, which I have to say I’ve never thought a lot about until now.

For them, Davies, a successful writer for TV and radio, has produced a worthy successor to his first novel, the highly enjoyable Utter Folly. I hope he stays out of Dead Writers’ Rehab long enough to write many more.

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