DREAD: THE ART OF SERIAL KILLING by Mark Ramsden - a review
Mr Madden, Dickens enthusiast, muses with his beautiful and bohemian prisoner on possible endings to the famous author’s unfinished final mystery.
Mr Madden, spy, infiltrates a far right nationalist group in order to set up the thugs for something far more serious than their usual boozy street fights.
Mr Madden, serial killer, sculpts his Candidates into bizarre and macabre artworks within the bare walls of his dungeon workshop.
And if he is to keep one step ahead of the police, the secret service and his own gory instincts, Mr Madden is going to have to find the answer to the one question that hangs over all our heads:
What would Charles Dickens do?
The First Paragraph
AN ANCIENT CATHEDRAL TOWN
'Rochester Cathedral: its square-towered splendour lit by a full moon. Frosted glass shimmers as Mr Madden crunches his way to the graveyard, long after midnight. He zips open a sleeping bag and shakes out the mutilated corpse of Candidate 9, still in hoody, jeans and trainers. He takes care not to desecrate a gravestone, thinking of the families of the dead. We are at the spiritual centre of Charles Dickens' final book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, wherein a loathsome urchin throws rocks at passersby. Perhaps he is an ancestor of Mr Madden's latest victim, the sort of teenager now called a Chav. The word may have originated in nearby Chatham, certainly not short of feckless youth. Or does it come from the Romany for child? The answer is as elusive as the real person behind Mr Madden's many identities. He was once a citizen. Before his pregnant wife was killed by a joyrider, just one of the large ever-fertile underclass of the towns alongside Kent's River Medway. Dickens grew up here, a troubled childhood plagued by the imprisonment of his father for debt. He died in a nearby mansion, a home he promised his father he would buy.'
Mr Madden - the central character of this book, and in whose voice it is written - is a busy man. Not only is he an undercover government agent tasked with infiltrating a far right hate group, he is also a Charles Dickens aficianado obsessed with Dickens final novel - the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood - and finally, a serial killer. Now, being a Dickens enthusiast myself, I have to say it is this element that immediately attracted me to the book. The true genius of the novel, however, is the juxtaposition of the three - undercover agent, Dickens lover, murderer.
And it really is genius.
Never have I read a book so dark - and it is as dark a book as you will ever read - it is both hilarious and extremely moving. And that takes a writer of immense talent to pull off. Ramsden is such a writer.
Madden seemingly has an axe to grind - at times, literally - against most things in this world. Chavs are probably top of his list, followed in close second by the novelist Martin Amis. The list, though, is endless. I imagine the writing of this book provided a certain amount of catharsis for author Ramsden, at least I'd like to think so. Laughing along with Madden's views, it provided a fair amount for me too. Reading the Martin Amis comment left me, for a sublime moment, feeling a little less alone in this world. And that can be no bad thing, surely.
I have no hesitation in placing this book in the top one or two I have read in recent years. And I have read loads. You will ache with laughter, you will recoil in absolute horror, you will reflect upon the beauty of this world and the nature of love, but ultimately, you will pray Mr Madden does not come for you.
DREAD: THE ART OF SERIAL KILLING by Mark Ramsden, is published by Fahrenheit Press in both Kindle and paperback edition, and is available here