Review by Marc Nash
"Punchline" is hip, flip and an enjoyable comedic thriller. Luca Pope loses his job, but after the initial prospect of blowing his severance pay on getting drunk, there is the distinct advantage on offer of devoting himself to his ambition to become a published novelist. Until the jolt of seeing his book on the shelves of a bookshop, with another man's name on the spine. Now Luca being more the kind of guy who would spend his severance pay on a blowout rather than ensuring it saw him through until landing a job, fails to form a plan of attack to marshal and strategise his response and thus is set in motion an uproarious meandering set of events.
Luca is engaging company. He has a waspish tongue, a healthy cynicism and an opinion on any and everything. Though engaged on a sort of noirish thriller quest, he is absolutely British and modern in his worldview and a lousy layman detective. He fizzles and crackles with understandable indignation at most things in the world, seeing what has befallen him and a couple of sustained setpieces are really, fall off the sofa funny (maybe don't read this in the bath? But then it's an e-book so you probably wouldn't be anyway). The first is a scene that takes place in a dominatrix's workplace, when he'd unwittingly turned up to conduct a discussion on provenance and ownership of literature. The second is a phone conversation conducted in public with a hit man on the other end of the line and having to speak in improvised code which really shows off Fenton's skills as a comic writer.
I did have a couple of small reservations about the book as it hurtled towards its denouement. The first concerned the plot itself which I felt just ran out of steam as we approached the final showdown. The tying up of plot threads left me a tad unsatisfied, with the twist being radical and yet not being afforded any undue emphasis from the throughline it had overthrown. This is in part I think to my second reservation, that of the story centering around a writer. This may be personal to me as an author myself, but I do wonder whether readers are as concerned with literary and publishing crimes and misdemeanours as we writers certainly are. In the end this was about a guy who had his manuscript plagiarised and permitted the playing out of writerly revenge fantasies (Dan Brown fans may not warm to this book). The satire concerning submitting manuscripts, rejections, wannabe author judgements about other authors, while eminently recognisable to me, were not remarkable enough to be any different from any writer's forum or blog you may care to scour. I think if you're going to make this the main thrust of your novel, then you really have to go so much further out there with it.
Having said that, the less frenetic reflexive meditations on writing and the writer did remind me of Paul Auster's "New York Trilogy". This together with the great narrative voice (which reminded me of Christopher Brookmyre) and the rich vein of comedy running throughout, absolutely still makes "Punchline" a very enjoyable and recommended read.
(This ebook was provided free to the reviewer and he is acquainted with the author.)