Friday, January 12, 2024

"The Ungrateful Dead"

Adam Simcox is a London-based filmmaker who's shot commercials for brands such as McLaren, Primark and Vice, and music videos for Britpop veterans as well as fresh on the scene alt-country stars. He began his film career by writing and directing three features: the first sold to Netflix; the second and third won awards and critical acclaim at festivals worldwide. He is a graduate of the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course.

Simcox applied the Page 69 Test to The Ungrateful Dead, the third novel in The Dying Squad series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Megan leaned forward. ‘Dave said there’s a new drug on the market that you’ve had some dealings with. Spook.’

Julius smiled at her, then rose from his seat, walking towards the hi-fi rack. He reached down, twisting a chunky circular dial on the jet-black receiver. The classical music jumped several leagues in volume, the walls almost shaking with it.

He turned back towards her.

He was holding a gun.

Up, he mouthed.

Bits stared at the room, trying to take it in. To make sense of it.

There were six places laid at the dining room table. The chairs next to those places were occupied. If you squinted, you would have assumed the figures were children. They sat patiently, their arms out in front of them, their heads half turned towards each other as if in conversation. The plates in front of them were piled high with food at odds with their age; there were no fairy cakes here, no childish fancies. Instead, beef Wellington sat in pools of gravy, and full-to-the brim wine glasses waited impatiently to be drunk.

Bits saw, all too clearly, that the children weren’t really children.

They were dolls. Incredibly lifelike ones. Their hair was shiny, their skin a close approximation of the genuine thing, their eyes dead and glassy.

The food in front of them was all too real, though. The flies that swarmed and swam in the oceans of gravy confirmed that.

A wailing filled the air. It sounded almost as mournful as the classical music in the dining room.

Glad of the excuse to leave such a creepy scene, Bits decided to follow it.
I love the idea of this test, and this excerpt from page 69 is a great example of the tone and the subject matter of The Ungrateful Dead. It illustrates well how I try to mix the ordinary and extraordinary, the fantastical and the everyday. The Dying Squad trilogy has always been a smorgasbord of genres – crime dashed with a taster of fantasy, with a topping of horror – and this page captures that nicely. Bits and his living partner Megan are on the hunt for the hero of the trilogy, Joe Lazarus, who went missing at the end of the second novel, The Generation Killer. Their quest has brought them to a drugs den in Manchester; the kingpin inside deals in Spook, a drug which allows the living to see the dead. I’ve always aimed for gritty realism with these books, which hopefully means when the supernatural elements come out to play, the reader is kept off-balance.

What page 69 doesn’t represent totally accurately is the geography of the novel. The majority of The Ungrateful Dead is set in Berlin through the decades, starting in the 1940’s, and ending in the present-day iteration. It’s a city I find endlessly alluring, one with a sense of bohemian decadence that bombs, walls and fascism hasn’t been able to eradicate. I’d wanted to write about it for a long time, and the final part of The Dying Squad trilogy gave me the perfect excuse to do just that.
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--Marshal Zeringue