Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Shock to the System: Simon Brett

This is a very different book by Simon Brett. Most of his books are humorous, lighter mysteries; I have read several books featuring Charles Paris, the actor. A Shock to the System is part dark comedy, and part thriller. Graham Marshall is an HR professional, a seemingly ordinary man, who kills a man in a fit of pique. He does not even know the man he kills; he leaves work after learning that he has not gotten the promotion he expected. He is accosted by a bum begging for money; in a rage, he hits the man with his umbrella and pushes him off a bridge. Initially he is remorseful and fears retribution; when it does not come, he begins to see murder as a solution to his many problems.

Initially, I had empathy with Graham. He has been moving steadily up the corporate ladder for years, his finances are becoming precarious, and his wife is pushing him to get a promotion so that they will have more money. Gradually Graham reveals his sordid, uncaring side; he cares little about how his behavior affects anyone. This is not a whodunnit, or even a howdunnit, as we watch as the crimes take place. The mystery here is whether he will be caught.

I expected the book to be more humorous. I did see the film adaptation when it came out in 1990 but I did not remember how dark the story was. This is black comedy, but I found it to be more black, less comedy.

The story was absorbing, well-written and a quick read; my interest never flagged. But it was not a comfortable read. With the story coming from Graham's point of view, it is hard not to feel the horror of the change in his behavior. Other characters in the book are also interesting and have depth, although few of them are very likable.

A new Blu-ray edition of A Shock to the System was recently released and that was my motivation to find a copy of this book and read it now. There are differences but I did not remember how the story played out in the film. It is set in New York, not the UK; Graham has a wife and a mother-in-law but no children.

Michael Caine is Graham, Swoozie Kurtz is his wife, and Elizabeth McGovern is a young woman who works in Graham's department and is attracted to him. Peter Riegert is the younger man who gets the promotion that Graham expected. Other than Caine, my favorite character in the film is Will Patton, who plays a police detective very much like Columbo.

I found the film lighter than the book but it was still pretty dark. A review in Entertainment Weekly from 1990 described this film as an "exhilarating corporate satire" that is "juicy fun." That would not be my assessment of the film, but it is very entertaining and well worth watching.

Publisher: Macmillan London, 1984
Length:    255 pages
Format:    Hardback 
Setting:    London
Genre:     Thriller
Source:    I purchased this book.


Bernadette said...

I have very vague memories of seeing the film but am not even sure I knew it was based on a book. I'd better stay away from it though...right now the notion of murder as the solution to pesky problem people sounds very tempting :)

col2910 said...

Not an author I've read before, nor is it a film I have seen. Sounds good, but I don't really need to seek it out - the book I mean. Maybe the film will crop up soemwhere.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean, Tracy, about Brett's usual style. The Charles Paris mysteries, for instance, aren't anything like this. It's interesting, actually, to contemplate what murdering someone does to a person, actually; and on that score, I'd find this interesting. But I think I agree with you that it'd probably be an uncomfortable read. Fascinating, though.

TracyK said...

I do know what you mean, Bernadette, but you could never be as amoral and cold as this character. I loved seeing the movie again to see all the actors in roles when they were younger.

TracyK said...

I think you would like the film, Col, and maybe it will show up somewhere. I think you would like the book too, but you don't need anymore books so that is fine.

TracyK said...

I would like to re-read some of the Charles Paris mysteries, Margot. I remember liking them and they were different, at least for me at the time I was reading them.

Shock to the System was a very interesting and different but creepy picture of a murderer.

Anonymous said...

Not read the book, though I enjoy Brett's Paris books, but I remember really liking the film when it came out.

TracyK said...

I am very good at forgetting the endings of films, Sergio, so I was surprised at the ending this time I watched it. Which was fun.

Mathew Paust said...

I didn't see the movie, but Caine would be perfect for the character you describe, Tracy. Think I'll pass on the book, tho, because of my penchant to identify with protagonists. I'm too old to go to jail!

TracyK said...

You would like the movie, Mathew, and Caine is very, very good in it.

Clothes In Books said...

Both book and film passed me by, although I am usually at least aware of Simon Brett works! (I think it might have been small baby time for me...). I'll probably stick to the Charles Paris, much my favourites of his books.

TracyK said...

Moira, I truly cannot remember if I read the book before, I know when I saw the film I noted that Simon Brett was the author. But I was entering a time when I read less (for about 10 years) due to heavy hours and stress at work, so maybe never made the effort to find the book. I was definitely surprised by the darkness of the book when I read it recently.