Literary Stalker – Roger Keen *****
You shouldn’t ever confuse an author with his characters, otherwise I imagine you would find Stephen King a very disturbed individual and, judging by how many serial killers operate in the crime fiction genre, you’d need to be wary about attending too many writing festivals, conventions and book signings. I’d even give J K Rowling a wide berth, just to be on the safe side.
I’m fairly sure however that Roger Keen is a nice guy, but you can never know for certain. I mean, how can you really know what goes on in the mind of a writer who imagines indulging in the stalking and brutal murder of critics, so-called friends and literary associates who he believes have ignored and slighted him over the years? Someone who not only imagines killing people in meticulous detail, but who seems to have put an awful lot of research into it. All for the sake of literature of course.
Nick Chatterton (or should that be Roger Keen) not only indulges in such fantasies in Literary Stalker but he also sets about turning it into a great and authentic work of genre fiction, ‘The Facebook Murders‘. His (Jago? Nick? Roger?) inspiration comes from the classic Vincent Price horror movie, Theatre of Blood, the story of a critic who takes bloody revenge on all the critics who have slighted his achievements over the years. In ‘The Facebook Murders‘ Nick, committing murder by novel, vicariously lives out a similar fantasy, his protagonist Jago Farrar exacting bloody revenge on those who have made disparaging remarks about him on social media, or failed to like his author page.
Similar to Edward Lionheart’s methods, Jago takes out his victims one by one not in a series of gruesome Shakespearean killings, but by re-enacting classic movie deaths from films like The Godfather Part II, Reservoir Dogs and Blue Velvet. Just to complicate matters (or rather for a purpose that becomes clear later) Jago, the killer in Nick’s novel, is also writing a novel, ‘Social Media Avenger‘ where he records the details of his revenge killings and the sensations he experiences while carrying them out.
As you will no doubt have gathered by now, Literary Stalker is something of a Russian Doll of a novel and rather more than just a regular genre horror thriller. As well as operating on a metafictional level however, where there is some overlap between where the characters and their creations meet (and none whatsoever with the actual author Roger Keen, I’d be tempted to say, just to be safe), there are several other considerations that go into Literary Stalker that you won’t need a degree in theoretical physics, philosophy, film history and literary studies to pick up on.
One is indeed the question of where the writer and his creation overlap, if at all. Surely in order to be authentic, the author must identify to some degree with his character or at least understand him? Literary Stalker also opens up the question of influences and creativity when we live in a less innocent information age with instant accessibility to all the classics of literature and cinema and can’t but be in awe of them. How can one not acknowledge or reference where we get such ideas from, and how can one avoid plagiarism? In some respects, Nick is a cultural sponge of genre material but he’s also (or believes he is) a literary innovator extending boundaries; a fearless explorer whose one great contribution is to write genre from a position of complete honesty and authenticity and call out all the fakes…
…and settle a few scores along the way. And, ultimately, while it might be fun to speculate on the overlap/overspill between reality and fantasy, and spot all the cinematic references, this is where Roger Keen’s novel must ultimately be judged. Fortunately, even if you take a straight line and settle on Nick Chatterton as the authentic narrator of the book, a gay writer hell-bent on stalking and settling scores with famous horror writer Hugh Canford-Eversleigh, Literary Stalker works wonderfully as a genre thriller with a delightfully absurd comic edge. Whatever way you look at it, Literary Stalker is a clever piece of genre writing, self-aware and self-critical, but uncompromisingly entertaining. If there are any criticisms to be made about the novel, it would take a braver reviewer than me willing to risk pointing them out to the author.
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