Eighty is the new thirty
June 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
COFFIN DODGERS – Gary Marshall
Kindle £1.99 ($2.99)
There has been a catastrophic collapse in the birth rate and an ageing population is taking it badly.
Sound familiar? If so, don’t jump to conclusions. Gary Marshall’s entertaining dystopian thriller is no Children of Men. His senior citizens are not just old. They’re old and rich. The few children still being born are doomed to waste their youth pandering to the whims of a generation of geriatric baby boomers – not as care assistants but as barmen, croupiers and aromatherapists. Eighty is the new thirty.
This is Simon Pegg territory – Shaun of the Dead meets Hot Fuzz. The three twenty-something protagonists, Matt, Amy and Dave, work in a vast casino complex and spend their free time bitching and dreaming up juvenile practical jokes to play on their elders. A bowling green has Old Farts written across it in weed-killer; flagpoles marking the holes at a golf course are coated in anti-climb paint.
Then young people start dying is freak accidents – and always two at a time.
Marshall has chosen a difficult narrative mode for his story – first person, present tense and lots of wisecracks. With a less capable writer this would be a disaster – beginners sometimes try it because it looks accessible, but too often it exposes their lack of control over language and plot. Marshall is completely in control. The writing is neat and slick and each element of the story clicks effortlessly into place. The jokes – not laugh out loud gags, but good for a steady grin – are rooted in daily life: supermarkets, car parks, beer and the familiar hassles of singleton existence. Even the most bizarre-sounding incidents turn out to be based on reality. Dave takes a date to a restaurant where diners eat in the dark, served by blind waiters. Yes, there is one. Google “blind waiters”.
The chatty tone could easily come to feel relentless, but Marshall varies the pace of the writing very effectively. There is a faint shadow of desperation behind the characters’ good humour and beneath the banter the relationship between Matt and Amy is tender and sometimes moving. The grumpy policeman the trio try to enlist on their side is splendidly down-to-earth and the climax of the story is fast-paced and gripping.
He also resists the urge to over-explain. The novel is set in the near future. Most things are recognisable, but we learn in passing that newspapers are published on tablet computers – the characters tap to read the headlines. The internal combustion engine is a thing of the past, but we pick this up through casual references to batteries. This is very refreshing: Marshall trusts his readers to keep up, a tolerance too many sf writers need to learn.
An enjoyable first novel. But I hope that with the next one he will try something completely different. It’s easy to get into a groove with this kind of book and it would be a shame to see that happen to such a capable writer.