Dead Air: Book One of The Dead Series

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Dead Air: The Complete Season 1

Dead Air is narrated by Kenneth Nott, a shock-jock on commercial radio who takes a swollen pride in his contrarian opinions. We first meet him at a drug-fuelled loft party in the East End of London, where everyone, for some reason, starts chucking fruit and furniture off the balcony. Ken's girlfriend, Jo, does PR for a snotty young British indie band called Addicta; he is also sleeping with a woman called Celia or "Ceel" , who happens to be married to a dangerous gangster.

You probably wouldn't like to meet Ken. He is one of those annoying, professionally opinionated people who are never off duty.

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Large portions of the novel are dedicated to expounding his reactions to the latest topics of media discussion, whether he is on air or just chatting in a pub: gun control "Guns for nutters only; makes sense" , American imperialism, CCTV cameras, Euroscepticism, the death of Diana "put on a fucking seatbelt" , all get extended libertarian rants.

It is a tribute to Banks's chatty prose skill that these discussions are largely entertaining, if superficially argued.

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After hundreds of pages of colourfully diversionary drinking, shagging and talking, Banks eventually remembers that he needs a plot, and so Ken does something unutterably stupid with a mobile phone - a narrative device so unconvincingly over-engineered that Ken is forced to spend three entire pages pointing out how incredible it is that someone could do something so moronic.

With this the reader can only concur.

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But this is when the novel's narrative engine at last rumbles into life, with the brilliantly managed tension of a burglary scene and a final showdown seething with repressed violence. But what, in the end, are we to make of this hero, who sleeps with his best friend's wife and very nearly his daughter , and is spectacularly insulting to all his friends especially black DJ Ed, orthographically crippled by the author's cringeworthy attempts to transliterate a south London accent?

Ken is little more than a stereotype of the self-obsessed media male, and yet he is allowed and this isn't spoiling much to ride off happily into the sunset. What on earth does Celia, a mysterious, beautiful ex-swimwear model with a strange existential philosophy familiar from a Murakami novel, see in him? Having chosen to write the novel in Ken's voice, Banks does not stake out any ironic distance between author and narrator, and indeed Ken often slips into the kind of fastidious smart-arsery that is familiar from other Banks voices.

His pillow talk consists of airy asides such as: "Oh, though there is that thing about the French calling it the little death, of course. Perhaps the problem is that Banks has not managed Ken rigorously enough as a dislikable character, so that he is prone to soft maundering such as, "But then when we fuck, and I am lost in her, surrendered to those depths beyond mere flesh Near the end of the novel, when things seem to be about to go very badly wrong, Ken suddenly cares deeply about the world's starving children, about whom for pages he has not appeared to give a toss.