Happy Now by Charles Higson

Is Higson our leading renaissance man? Modest success as a pop star, writing for Reeves & Mortimer, a leading performer in The Fast Show, and also a fine novelist – I suppose Jonathan Miller ranks higher in such a comparison, but Higson’s talents deserve great credit.

His novels are thrillers, of a distinctively British kind. There are no drawing rooms or exotic poisons, but his characters have a frustration and anger that is unmistakeably British, as well as lives and speech patterns. This novel orchestrates a successful middle-aged man with severe anger control problems (for which he blames his father), a former weed who has taken up karate to make him more manly, and someone who sneaks into others’ homes to masturbate. He constructs it superbly, choreographing the three into an eventual meeting and then dealing with the spiralling and violent repercussions. It’s terrific entertainment, funny, exciting, nasty, even with some of that cringing recognition that much of the best recent British comedy offers – if you imagine a violent remix of The Office, with David Brent losing his temper and showing up at work with a shotgun, you’ll be somewhere along the right lines.

His prose is sometimes rather basic, though always lively, and I can’t see him getting near any literary award shortlists in the foreseeable future, nor would I rank him with the best current US crime-thriller writers (such as Block, Burke, Vachss), but his are very enjoyable, strong and compelling novels.