SCI FICTION, October 5-19, 2005

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"The Serial Murders" by Kim Newman

In Kim Newman‘s "The Serial Murders," when you’re in Britain and there are ghastly ghosties lurking about, who ya gonna call?  The brave men and women of the Diogenes Club, that’s who.  When a jockey is literally ridden to death by his wife, a murder which is identical to one committed on a popular soap opera, the Diogenes Club is called in to investigate.  What psychic Richard and his comrades, Vanessa and Fred, discover is that there is a bizarre connection between this unusual crime and several other outlandish murders that have occurred within the past few months.  It all has to do with The Northern Barstows, a trashy yet popular, decades-old soap opera.  Calling in the lovely Barbara Corri, a professor who has made a living dissecting and studying the show, as a consultant, Richard sets out to discover who’s behind the sinister goings-on, while using his psychic abilities to try to ferret out the flesh and blood mastermind behind it all.

Along the way, he and Barbara fall for each other, and he learns more than he ever wanted to know about the improbable plotlines and the twisted relationships of the people who work on the show.  And there are some real characters here, like June O’Dell, who plays Mavis Barstow, the matriarch of the clan, who runs the show with an iron fist while gliding around the set on platform skates.  There’s her ex-husband, Marcus Squiers, who played Mavis’s husband on the show (who’s character is now deceased) and works as producer, director, and head writer.  There’s also Mama-Lou, the voodoo priestess who heads the show’s wardrobe department.

It’s all doppelgangers and living voodoo dolls from there on in, with Richard and Barbara caught in the middle.

Kim Newman weaves a fine story.  The plot is original, the characters utterly bizarre, and Newman does a nice job of describing how the reality of the show, the story setting, and the story itself begin to mirror each other.  There are also plenty of references to British popular culture, including the obligatory Dr Who reference.  Fortunately, each reference is hyperlinked to a footnote explanation. 

While a bit long, I thought "The Serial Murders" was well executed (pardon the pun) and an involving fantasy yarn.  It felt like I was watching the exploits of The Diogenes Club on television.