Book - Dead Famous

Ben Elton - 2001
ISBN: 0593048040
Dead Famous
£3.45 + p&p.

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Dead famous by Ben Elton

"Dead Famous" is both a scathing parody of the "Big Brother"-style reality TV show and a potboiler of a murder mystery. It's also one of the best page-turners I've ever read. You meet the ten "inmates" in the trash-TV show "House Arrest Three" at the very beginning, and find out that a murder occurs on the set under the watchful eye of the cameras, but the identity of the victim isn't even revealed until halfway through the book. The killer, of course, is not revealed until the end of the book. So the book reads very fast -- I finished it in a couple of days -- partly because author Ben Elton parcels out the revelations at just the right intervals to keep you hooked.

But Elton's main reason to write the book is so he can wickedly skewer the kind of people who pursue fame on reality TV shows, as well as the adoring fans who lap up the idiocy as long as it's "good telly". I'd fault Elton for being so misanthropic if I didn't agree with him. The author's spokesman in the novel is the policeman heading the murder case, a traditional old fogey who complains constantly about having to watch the "House Arrest" tapes for clues. The policeman's unhipness is also a source of humor in the book, so it seems like Elton can also make fun of himself in the midst of his moral outrage. I especially enjoyed his mockery of the Minister of Culture, who appears on a TV program to emphasize how the government supports quality programs like "House Arrest", because we have to listen to young people and give them what they want, because they are our future. Elton's exciting murder mystery is a fancy wrapper around a bitter piece of candy.

The book is funny as well -- the program's participants are a believeable array of twentysomethings looking to jumpstart a career or promote a cause by making a name for themselves on camera. Their vacuous language and touching gullibility ring true throughout the book, as is the fickle nature of the viewing public's favor. The whole package ends up being quite enjoyable. It goes by a bit TOO fast perhaps, and the novel pretty much plays just one note about the inanity of popular youth culture, but the message is well-taken and the murder mystery makes the medicine go down smoothly.