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Dead Famous

Ben Elton

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (4 Reviews)
Book Details

Publisher : Bantam Press

Published : 2001

Copyright : Ben Elton 2001

ISBN-10 : HB 0-593-04804-0
ISBN-13 : HB 978-0-593-04804-7

Publisher's Write-Up

One house. Ten contestants. Thirty cameras. Forty microphones.

Yet again the public gorges its voyeuristic appetite as another group of unknown and unremarkable people submit themselves to the brutal exposure of the televised real-life soap opera, House Arrest.

Everybody knows the rules: total strangers are forced to live together while the rest of the country watches them do it. Who will crack first? Who will have sex and with whom? Who will the public love and who will they hate? All the usual questions. And then, suddenly, there are some new ones.

Who is the murderer? How did he or she manage to kill under the constant gaze of the thirty television cameras? Why did they do it? And who will be next?

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Nadine (310804) Rating (7/10)
Review by Ray (290103) Rating (8/10)
Review by Nigel (010102) Rating (7/10)
Review by Chrissi (011201) Rating (8/10)

Review by Nadine
Rating 7/10
It seemed appropriate to read this book while the latest series of 'Big Brother' was on. So I bought it on a whim and read it on holiday.

The plot concerns a fictional, exaggerated version of 'Big Brother', in which the seemingly impossible happens: A housemate is murdered on camera, and the killer manages to escape identification. The police are left trawling through archived footage, which is all they have to go on.

It's all a bit ridiculous, of course. The very idea that the programme would continue after the murder is preposterous, and the tasks that the housemates are required to perform push the limits of believability somewhat. But if you can ignore these aspects, it is actually a very good story.

We begin with an Agatha Christie style introduction to the characters, their backgrounds and their relationships. Gradually it becomes apparent who the victim is going to be, but any number of characters could be the villain.

Towards the end it turns from Agatha Christie to Jonathan Creek, with a wildly improbable but very clever solution. Just like most good murder mysteries, it left me kicking myself for not working it out.

On the downside, it wasn't as funny as I would have expected from Ben Elton. The digs at the mindless and exploitative nature of 'Big Brother' are quite amusing, but the narrative is sadly short of the quality quips and jokes that you'd expect from the quick-fire comedian. I did smile in places, but laugh-out-loud moments were few and far between. In some parts it was even quite serious.

So, to sum up... As a mystery, it is excellent. As a 'Big Brother' parody, it is outstanding. But if you're after belly-laughs you might be disappointed.
Nadine (31st August 2004)

Review by Ray
Rating 8/10
Not having read a Ben Elton book in a long time, I chose this one based on the reviews of this site, (even we use it :)) and I think I picked a good one to rekindle my liking of Elton's work.

The characters within the book we can all recognise. The contestants cover the whole spectrum of young society and they are all there, despite what they might say, to be famous. Unfortunately for one of them, more so.

The chief inspector is, as Chrissi describes, a 'dinosaur'. An old fashioned policeman with family values who just doesn't understand the point of such a show. He struggles to understand why anyone would want to watch it and watch it he has to, all 20,000 hours of it, to find a murderer who against all odds has managed to kill someone with millions watching while keeping their own identity hidden.

I read the last third of this book in one sitting as the days in the 'house' came to a close as by then, I wanted to know who did it as I had a list of candidates and I still got it wrong. Cleverly written and as in many whodunit's, an array of suspects and potential motives are paraded in front of you to make you think its them but more likely than not you'll be wrong. Maybe I should spend more time watching Agatha Christie's 'Poirot'.

It's definitely worth a read, and Elton gives the idea of reality TV a new twist...
Ray (29th January 2003)

Review by Nigel
Rating 7/10
Always one with an eye for an opportunity Ben Elton has managed to bring the 'reality' phenomenon to the written page, which if you think about it is a piss-take in itself.

Dead Famous tells the story of a group of 'Big Brother' contestants (in this case we have 'Peeping Tom') living in a house where one of them has been killed under the watchful gaze of half the planet. The first chapter is set after the event with Chief Inspector Coleridge viewing the tapes of the house and trying to put together what has happened, or more precisely how it was done.

Throughout the story we get to love and hate the various characters while their secrets are revealed.

Basically Dead Famous is a whodunit murder mystery with all the clues there for the solving. It has some great moments of humour but also some dark observations on human nature. A very good read and a must for all fans of reality TV... it may bring them back to the real world.
Nigel (1st January 2002)

Review by Chrissi
Rating 8/10
This is a Ben Elton take on the Big Brother phenomenon, and you know this from the very opening when you read the dedication, where it mentions all the British contestants and the Australian ones as well (very well travelled must be Mr. Elton...)

Anyway, Dead Famous is a really cutely written story - you know very early that someone has been murdered, because the police are already investigating, but the poor policemen have to go back through all of the video footage - thirty cameras at 24 hours a day makes alot of stuff to go over with a fine-toothed comb. (Or a major case of narcolepsy, depending on your point of view!)

We have a group of people who you almost recognise, with the usual mix - the extroverts, the well-balanced ones, those who are complete nut balls, and those who you do not realise are actually there until the fourth week when you have voted off the really annoying ones and there are only the complete non-entities and the token minority member left.

Then you have the ones that you cannot imagine what the producers were thinking about - they would drive a saint to murder - the ones that you watch because the morbid fascination is just too great - the ones with lives that just cannot be real - perhaps their fantasy lives are just a little too brightly coloured, or just too fantastical - but you know the ones, you cannot stand them but they make you value your life just a little more - because you do not have to live with them!

Well, our poor policeman - he's a bit of a dinosaur, really, with no concept of pop culture and the irony of things like these shows. He is trying to investigate while the show contestants are still living in the house, and trying to catch up with the footage at the same rate that it is being generated. I personally think that had it been me, I would have handed in my resignation there and then - it would have put me in a loony bin - just watching people sitting around all day - just talking about nothing...not that I cannot talk for hours about nothing, but in my experience doing and watching are different things.

Well, Mr. Elton has taken the classic 'what if' scenario to the ultimate absurd end. The murder takes place in full view of the remaining contestants, and on film, but you still do not know who did it. The investigation is complicated by the relationships developed within the house prior to the murder and by the warped turns that some of these relationships are developing - not all of them inside!

This is what Ben Elton has always done for me - he takes an absurd but possible situation and treats it in such a way that it seems neither absurd nor improbable. He draws characters so that you feel that you know them, whether they make you laugh or squirm (if you have read it, the bloke with the flea powder - urghh!!)

Well worth a read - you don't have to remember Elton in his shiny suits on Saturday Night Live to find him funny!! (Oooops, just gave away a big clue as to my age but what the hell...) You certainly do not have to be a big fan of reality TV to enjoy this - in fact if you dislike the phenomenon intensely then you will probably find it rather more amusing - perhaps death is the way forward - you never know!
Chrissi (1st December 2001)

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