Publisher: Bantam Press
Released: January 1, 2001
One house, ten contestants, thirty cameras, forty microphones, one murder ... and no evidence.
Dead Famous is a killer read from Ben Elton – Reality TV as you've never seen it before.
Dead Famous has an extremely promising premise. You have a Big Brother-like reality show with a bunch of contestants who are locked in a house and being filmed around the clock. One of the contestants gets murdered on live television. Considering the circumstances, this should be a very easy case to solve. Turns out, solving this case is far from easy.
Unfortunately I found the execution of the story to be quite flawed. It’s not quite a bad book, but it could have been so much more.
My first problem becomes apparent from the start. The book spends a disproportionate amount of time mocking the concept of “locked in a house” reality television, the people who make it, and the people who watch it. This isn’t something that I would necessarily mind, except it happens so much that it just becomes monotonous. The book also falls into the very trap it is mocking. One moment it questions the sanity and intelligence of people who sit around watching a television programme consisting of people having mundane conversations. The next moment it presents an example of one of these lengthy mundane conversations. Sure, this is done with all the irony in the world, but that doesn’t make it less dull. It also goes far in criticising television producers and viewers for their love of gratuitous nudity, scandal, and general sex-sells tv. Again, this is fine, except the fact that the book itself becomes more than a little gratuitous on several occasions. I have no problem with social commentary on the topic of reality television (and largely agree with the author), but the sheer amount of righteous moral-highground judging becomes dull, the point becomes laboured, and the tendency of the book to exploit the methods it is criticising makes it all seem shallow.
That said, this could easily be forgiven if the story were as thrilling and interesting as it had the potential to be. But it isn’t. On the whole the characters aren’t that bad, but the main character, the detective in charge of the case, becomes an unintentional parody of himself by the end of the book. This becomes problematic due to my final problem with this book, the plot. The plot turns into something which needs a strong, relatable character to hold it together and convince you it isn’t as silly as it actually is. You don’t get that character. And unfortunately the plot just becomes increasingly unbelievable as the story goes on. What could have been a very clever, intricate story comes to an almost laughably contrived conclusion. It also didn’t help that I had a good idea who committed the crime long before it suited the book, which made the not-so-subtle hints that followed seem awkward.
However, I actually liked the book. At least a little.
I’ve complained in the past about good stories that aren’t told very well, but I found this to be a bad story that is actually told quite well. There is enough humour and warmth throughout to make the book quite entertaining. It’s a pity that it never became more than that, because I feel like it should have and so easily could have, but hey. At least it was quite entertaining.