Danny Yates Must Die by Stephen Walker (HarperCollins Voyager, £5.99, 322 pages, paperback; published 16 August 1999.)
"If you put Mel Brooks, Eddie Izzard, Spike Milligan and Salvador Dali around a table in a locked room with a few cylinders of Nitrous Oxide for refreshment and asked them to write a book, they might have come up with Danny Yates Must Die. But why bother when Stephen Walker can do it alone?"
That's from the publicity blurb that accompanied my review copy of this, a first novel from Stephen Walker. A lot of the time I was reading this I was of the opinion that Brooks et al would be entirely justified in taking legal action against the HarperCollins publicity people, if they could be arsed. But finally, I came to the conclusion, why bother? DYMD isn't as bad as it initially threatened to be, it's just not all that good either.
The book opens with eight pages of rather aimless conversation between shelf-stacker and customer in a comics shop. Finally, something happens: the shop collapses from too much stapling and Danny Yates, the shelf-stacker, wakes up six months later in hospital, being fed Ribena by intravenous drip.
The rest of the novel follows Danny on a series of occasionally comical adventures involving a super-genius, glamorous scientist, a witch, various assorted comic-book monsters and so on. The book makes much of its roots in over-the-top comics fiction, but that doesn't excuse the fact that it's just a succession of surreal/comic scenes hung on a convoluted chase plot, peopled by characters with silly names (Xenia Minnlebatt, General Biggshott-Phaffing), and is almost entirely lacking in the basic ingredients of good novels, comic or otherwise: character, atmosphere, setting, style.
There's enough in here to make it a pretty good bet that Stephen Walker will write good comic novels in the future: some genuinely funny ideas and warped leaps of logic that might even be described as Izzardery. But he certainly hasn't managed it with Danny Yates Must Die.
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© Nick Gifford 28 August 1999