Novice novel writers are often advised to ‘write what you know’ and with his first published novel – A Matter of Life And Death - PR advisor Paul Carroll has proven that not only is he adept at dishing out good advice, but he can take it as well. The plot of his debut novel is based firmly in the murky worlds of public profile making and mud raking, worlds where Carroll made his mark with his Communique PR consultancy before selling and going solo some years ago.
The story focuses on high profile young entrepreneur, Farren Mortimer, the head of an innovative funeral services business, AMOLAD, which offers bereaved family a plethora of ‘creative’ ways to remember their loved ones. All obviously devised to deliver maximum wonga to said entrepreneur’s bulging bank account and add kudos to his growing public profile.
Throw in an ambitious politician trapped in a deathly dull marriage, an ultra-ambitious former glamour model who seeks the public limelight and a scorned business partner who feels he is not adequately rewarded for his input into the story and you quickly realise that you are set for a heady mix of treachery, double cross and risky rendezvous in posh bars and sleazy hotel rooms.
As the book’s author was previously no doubt penned thousands of press releases and news press articles in years gone by, it was always a given that Carroll’s language would flow effortlessly and he delivers in spades, but what Carroll does particularly effectively is to build the reader’s empathy towards the key characters and actually encourages the reader care about them. Not care as in Carroll makes you ‘like’ them as such, but at least care enough to want to know what happens to them next. Hence, you are pulled at break neck speed through the book’s 284 pages. Again a demonstration of his skills as a PR man in making fundamentally unlikeable people quite likeable.
It’s always an odd experience reading a book written by someone who you know quite abit about. As you read, quite subconsciously, your brain leaps into action seeking to make connections. Who is that character actually based on? Is that really Nigel Hughes? Are we really talking about Co-operative Funeral Care here? Is Paul using Farren Mortimer to vent his spleen? Is Farren saying the things that Carroll desperately wants to say, but could never say for sake of offending clients and colleagues past and present? These are all questions that sprang to mind as the words shuttled past.
On clients, at one point, Mortimer muses: “In his ad agency days he used to say that the best ideas didn’t make it past clients who were too dozy to spot genius.”
On politicians and the public sector Mortimer suggests: “…they were, to a man and a woman vacuous, vain, self-seeking, greedy and duplicitous cretins, who wouldn’t have held down a job for five minutes in any other ‘profession’.”
And on business, does Carroll give an insight into how he really felt running his own consultancy for so many years when he writes: “As Farren brushed the crumbs from his lap on to the floor, he reflected, not for the first time, that running a business was bloody harder than people reckoned. It wasn’t the work; it was the people.”
In conclusion, A Matter of Life & Death is a confident debut novel and a good ride through the worlds of commerce, celebrity, politics and PR all mixed together with a hefty dose of black humour and the promise of more good things to come from the pen of Paul Carroll.