One of the perks of working in a bookshop like Blackwell’s in Oxford is that you get to meet plenty of authors, both known and unknown to fame. They are real people too, which means that they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, personalities and talents. Sometimes they have written a book that you admire deeply but turn out in person to be underwhelming (or worse…). Sometimes they are a delight on a personal level but have written something that is mediocre (or worse…)
This blog has detailed the story behind The Company of Fellows by Dan Holloway winning our online poll of Your Favourite Oxford Novel. It is a great story – one that has opened our eyes to what a great bookshop should be doing in this age of online connectivity with authors, customers and fans. Dan himself has been a delight to work with – he has promoted the poll and the result tirelessly. He has ferried copies of the book to the shop on a regular basis (yes! we are selling plenty of copies!). He has been enthusiastic, supportive and a joy to get to know. We are doing two events with him over the coming months. I will be seeing him again!
So it was with some trepidation that I started reading The Company of Fellows. What if it was unexceptional? What if I just didn’t like it – especially considering that Crime Fiction and Thrillers are not my usual staple?
I did consider these things before packing the book and made a promise to myself that I would be honest – after all the trust that customers have in our staff recommendations is hugely important to me and something that we should not meddle with in any circumstance.
So it is with great relief, delight and enthusiasm that I commend The Company of Fellows to you.
It is very much driven by the plot – the apparent suicide of a brilliant academic and his star pupil’s quest to find the truth about the death. Monstrous skeletons are found in plentiful cupboards as the tale unfolds. As with any decent thriller the plot rattles along at a great pace with enough twists to keep the most restless armchair detective guessing.
The main protagonist, Tommy West, is drawn with enough vulnerability and ambiguity to be convincing and likeable. Strong female characters are always welcome and here we have a bevy from DS Lu, Haydn Shaw and, in their own very different ways, Becky and Emily. Most of the main male characters are, to a greater or lesser extent, pretty despicable. Some delightfully so..and the competitive, insular, incestuous world of academia, if obviously exaggerated, has a ring of authenticity. One of the strengths of the novel.
At times the story takes you to very uncomfortable places which, to some, may teeter on the gratuitous but this is psychological horror where the thought in the mind of the reader is much more disturbing than the deed. However, it is unsettling and will be beyond the pale for some.
The writing style is unpretentious and reminded me to a degree of early Ian Banks. Occasionaly the research shown off in the book felt a little superfluous, but overall it is solidly, rather than spectacularly, written and none the worse for that.
Oxford, not just the inner sanctums of the Colleges, is a fine backdrop and there are plenty of local observations that will bring a wry smile to those who know the city well. So, add another cracking book the illustrious tales of this most murderous city. Do yourself a favour and pop into the shop to pick up a copy and enter the the dark, disturbing and at times depraved world of The Company of Fellows