Bob Mortimer is a UK comedian whose panel-show appearances are legendary. His best work is on the show Would I Lie to You?, where the combination of his quick wit and utterly insane lifestyle make his preposterous tales impossible to assess for veracity. Listening to Mortimer unwind a real corker of a tale is a joy to behold, whether or not he’s telling the truth. Thus I was highly intrigued when I heard he had written a novel.
The Satsuma Complex (published in the U.S. as The Clementine Complex) is narrated by Gary, a thirty-year-old legal assistant working in a fancy London law firm. One night after work he gets dragged out for a drink with an acquaintance named Brendan who works as a private investigator. They have an awkward conversation until Gary’s pal gets an urgent phone call and leaves in a hurry. Remaining at the pub, Gary starts chit-chatting with a woman sitting alone and reading a copy of a book called The Satsuma Complex. When he goes to get drinks at the bar, she disappears, leaving behind the book with a note inside. The next day, disappointed and hung over, Gary is shocked by the appearance of two policemen at his flat. They tell him his friend Brendan is dead and Gary may be the last person to see him alive.
Gary finds himself way out of his depth, trying to find out what happened to his friend and what, if anything, the cute girl he starts calling “Satsuma” in his head had to do with it. Unsure of who to trust, Gary winds up relying on his neighbor, a lonely widow, and her dog Lasso for help. He also starts talking to squirrels. I did say this was a book written by a comedian.
Gary is an unusual protagonist, but is fun to spend time with. He’s fairly bored with his life and his humdrum office job, and therefore tries to find the humor in every situation. He takes special joy in asking absurd, pointless questions and playing little word games with unsuspecting people. Even when he and his friends are in real danger, he can’t resist doing his little bits. In less sure hands, it might dissolve into rank silliness, but Mortimer deftly balances the plot with his unusual main character.
When it comes to Taskmaster contestants turned mystery writers, Mortimer is no Richard Osman, but The Satsuma Complex is a fun, lighthearted read with just enough plot to keep the reader invested.