Shopocalypse by David Gullen (book review).
A major concern for the debut author is being different. To make a mark in an already overcrowded market and to compete against the plethora of self-published ebooks cheaply available is difficult. A lot of hard work is put into cramming in elements that will hopefully produce something special. It is a bit like cookery. There are so many ingredients to choose from that knowing which ones will complement each other and make a good dish comes from experience. ‘Shopocalypse’ has some very interesting ingredients, they don’t all work together and there is perhaps too much on this particular plate. Possibly, the book doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.
The novel starts in a serious, straight-forward vein heralding noir thriller. Novik has just been released after two years in prison and is met by his girlfriend, Josie. Their intention is to keep out of trouble. It is not their fault that the only other customers in the diner they pull into are a trio calling themselves the Old-Fashioned Boys. When things begin to go a bit peculiar, they do the sensible thing and hit the road only to find that the Boys’ car has hitched a ride with them. This vehicle is a homage to K.I.T.T., the intelligent vehicle from the TV series ‘Knight Rider’. This car, they discover, has a very large amount of cash stashed in the boot which is contaminated by a mix of psychedelic drugs. The original owner is likely to want it back.
Novik’s crime had been to protest against government policy so he and Josie decide that they can strike against it by spending the money. This as a future America in which the sole recreation of the population appears to be shopping. There are huge malls for the purpose of indulging the addiction. The plan is not to spend on individual items but to buy up all the stock in a shop, for cash, causing it to close temporarily. Do it enough times and it would bring the malls down and subvert the economy. The original owner of the money, however, wants the money back. Pursuing the fugitives, a swathe of death, mayhem and incompetence is left across the landscape adding noir farce to the mix.
So far, the wit makes this pastiche enjoyable but other elements are added. The richest man in the world ever is Palfinger Crane. As he knows, having money attracts more money. However, it doesn’t make him happy. What would, would be a cure for his daughter, Ellen. No-one can explain why she continues to gain weight. He knows that if this continues, she will die and he is willing to spend as much as it takes to solve the problem. Several factions think that Crane is both the cause and the solution to the world’s ills.
Add to this a political strand. The economy is going down the tubes and the remedy the president comes up with is murder. She reasons that if a hit squad takes out Crane’s ex-wife, Bianca, first, then Crane, Ellen will inherit everything and be persuaded to give her fortune to the government to bail it out. This element is more than farce. It gets ludicrous at times. Eventually, the paths of all these characters meet in the same place leading to the carnage usually only seen in cartoons.
While there are interesting elements in this book, it is far too long. The interesting characters, Novik, Josie and friends, tend to get lost among the plethora of incidentals. The shopping theme, which is having a good kick at consumerism, tends to fade away in the second half. Gullen is trying to do too much in this novel and would have done better to remove one element – probably the political one – and produce something that was tighter, wittier and keeping a focus on the real issues that he wants to attack.
(pub: Monico, London, UK. 487 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-90901-620-0)
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