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by Anthony Horowitz
Orion, August 2004
272 pages
ISBN: 075285724X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Heard the one about the restless, resting actor who discovered why the chicken crossed the road? Or the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman who thought they had discovered an international conspiracy? No? Then find the answers in THE KILLING JOKE.

Anthony Horowitz has been amazingly successful as a television writer and a children's author. An unhappy childhood caused his imagination to flourish as he dreamed up scenarios of revenge and escape in order to make his life bearable. His childhood ambition to become a writer was fulfilled in his early 20s and since then he has, now aided by his invaluable writing aid, a chocolate Labrador, brought much joy to young readers and adult television watchers alike.

Actor Guy Fletcher is miserable. His girlfriend, Kate, has deserted him in favour of his best friend. Overwhelmed by sorrow -- as he is not by his latest script -- he walks into a bar and overhears a joke. Guy's mindset is such that he tends to imagine conspiracies -- for example, why is it that no one one knows ever seems to win a large prize on Premium Bonds? He had begun to follow that one up until he lost interest when a good part came up for him.

At the time he begins to drink in the bar and overhears the joke, he doesn't have a good part. Also, the joke is about his recently deceased mother, whom he had never met. Where would such a joke begin? Could it perhaps have been thought up by an unhappy fat boy in an attic somewhere? He decides to follow the trail but encounters his first setback when he is beaten up by the men in the bar.

The facial injuries suffered during the beating make him unfit to work so he is free to pursue what rapidly becomes an obsession. As he travels steadily toward the north-east of England he is soon stalked by an unlikely trio: an Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman. Along the way he also encounters several rabbis as well as an artfully-placed banana skin, a shaggy dog and an exploding house. At least he is fortunate enough to meet someone who might be a love interest.

While the narrative can't seem to make up its mind as to whether it wants to be funny or frightening, it is told in beautiful language. Given the number of horror stories in recent decades that have fairgrounds as their location Horowitz's House of Fun has humour and tinges of menace as (Guy) "turned on the torch and fifty beams of light shafted across the interior, reflecting off mirrors that hung on every wall. They were distorting mirrors, turning Guy and Sally into dwarves or giants -- depending where they looked." The author is really very good at establishing atmosphere.

The story is constructed within the framework of a joke, from the beginning where "There's this guy, goes into a bar" to almost ending "I seem to have completely ballsed this up, I'm really sorry. Do you mind if I start again at the beginning?" -- a novel approach, so to speak. Does it work? Well, despite it tending to lose its way in parts it is quite amusing at times and certainly entertaining overall.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, December 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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