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by Michael Collins
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, April 2006
384 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0297850830

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Michael Collins' awards tend to help define his crime fiction as literary thrillers and while it is possible to criticise the slowness of the pace of THE SECRET LIFE OF E ROBERT PENDLETON, it has its exciting moments and the plot has a great deal to recommend it.

Robert Pendleton has the sort of security that can only come with tenure at a reputable (or, in the case of Bannockburn, mediocre) college. After a blazing start to his career as a writer he finds his inspiration to be in the doldrums.

When Pendleton was himself a student, he and rival Allen Horowitz were considered the future of literature, with Pendleton perhaps holding the greater promise. Now the academic is in the invidious position of having to beg the successful Horowitz to give a talk at the college.

Robert's humiliation is complete when he sees graduate student Adi Wiltshire betray him when she is seemingly fascinated by Horowitz. After picking up his rival Pendleton drops Adi and Horowitz at the college then, under the pretence of looking for a parking spot, returns to a darkened home illuminated only by the glowing eyes of his pet rabbit, which caused the blackout in the first place, in order to kill himself.

Adi, meanwhile, senses something wrong, leaves Horowitz and seeks out Pendleton. Her anguish when she finds Robert is captured by photographer Wright, another student, in the so-called 'suicide shot'.

Pendleton's suicide bid is botched and he is kept alive in hospital. Adi, meanwhile, moves into his house and finds a vanity press published book by Robert, entitled SCREAM. She enlists Horowitz's help in having the novel republished, which it is, to great acclaim. Unfortunately, it gives details of the murder of a young girl that occurred ten years previously and Pendleton becomes a suspect in the crime while, at the same time, SCREAM looks likely to be disqualified from a fiction award because if the novel is autobiographical, it can't be fiction.

A policeman, Ryder, comes to study the case, which might involve a serial killer but his investigations are hampered because of his own problems, not the least of which are the alienation of his daughter and his current wife.

Collins seems to have had a great deal of fun lashing academe, academics and perpetual students with this work. Even police come in for their fair share of criticism.

The characterisation isn't terribly strong the author fails to make his people spring from the pages but the plot is sufficiently convoluted, with a wry twist to its conclusion, to hold the interest.

It is rather puzzling that the book is set in the 1980s rather than the present day but no doubt the author had his reasons, reasons that have simply escaped me.

There is much learned pontificating on literature and even a little science in the novel and I felt that there was probably quite a lot that whooshed its way over my head. Despite this, the coherent plot is well thought out.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, July 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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