Mark Lawson, The Deaths – A social satire in a whodunit
Because, like everyone else round here, we were playing doll’s houses – doll’s palaces, more like… (…) My father, may he rest wherever, was so fucking right – he always told me never mix with people a lot richer than you are. Because they sure as hell won’t meet you halfway by pretending to be poorer.(…) We were keeping up with the Joneses but Jones was broke!
The English countryside: four couples and their children living in four similar houses, built for the aristocracy. They call themselves The Eight. The do everything together: the men commute to and from London, shoot clay pigeons, play tennis. The women go to the spa, walk the dogs, attend the book club together. As couples, they invite each other for evening meals, and even plan a week-end in Marrakesh, without the kids.
At the beginning of the novel, the deaths occur. Five people have been shot dead in one of the houses, but the reader doesn’t know which ones, or who the perp is. The story unfolds, chapters alternating between the months preceding the deaths and the early stages of police investigation.
Below the surface of these wealthy, happy people, where it is more a matter of outshining the Joneses rather than keeping up with them, for instance by ordering more luxury coffee capsules than the neighbours, the cracks begin to appear, below the surface: the financial crisis is looming, even for the privileged. Businesses falter but seem to thrive. Apparently. Shop thievery, petty jalousies, adultery, panic attacks, couples crises: a tragedy is brewing, without the reader being quite able to guess who will be the victims and who will be the perp.
The Deaths is a well-plotted and clever sociologic thriller, a social satire of our times and of life amongst the wealthy, where appearances are all that matters. Original whodunit, on every level.