The Satsuma Complex, Bob Mortimer

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Recently we lucked upon one of those fabulous episodes of Would I Lie To You? in which David Mitchell has to guess if Bob Mortimer is telling the truth or not. Regular viewers of the show will realise that this is the stuff of minor legend now, with Mitchell doubting his own sanity in these moments, because no matter how outrageous, he simply can't tell whether the yarns that Mortimer is able to spin are the truth or a lie. And to be fair, most viewers would have a similar experience (perhaps without the existential shouty angst that Mitchell now displays). Needless to say, the tales Mortimer spins on that show are hilarious. By all accounts his autobiography AND AWAY... is a fabulous work (it's on the teetering piles here), so you can imagine the hmmm reaction that was triggered when THE SATSUMA COMPLEX lobbed here most unexpectedly.

The story is based around Gary Thorn. A very ordinary sort of bloke - his own words in the blurb say "To describe me as anonymous would be unfair but to notice me other than in passing would be a rarity." Thorn works as a legal assistant in a firm of solicitors in London, he likes a drink in the pub, gets on well with his eccentric neighbour, and regularly chats to a local squirrel. 

He's a bit confused when work acquaintance Brendan (from the firm of private investigators the legal firm uses) asks him to join him for a pint in the pub one night, but not all that fussed when Brendan makes a hasty early exit, because he's spied a woman he quite likes the look of. Managing to miss her name, despite quite a bit of time chatting that night, he ends up referring to her as Satsuma - the name of the book she was reading on that night was The Satsuma Complex. Alas it was not to be though, and on his return from getting in another round of drinks, Satsuma had disappeared. Next morning, and a couple of policemen on his doorstep inform him that Brendan's been found dead and Gary's the last person that they know of who spoke to him when he was alive. Which sends Gary off on a quest to find Satsuma - partly because he still fancies her and partly because he needs her for an alibi.

It's an intriguing idea, and you'd think, in the hands of a consumate yarn spinner like Mortimer a lay down page-turner. Which, to be fair, it is in some places, and most definitely isn't in a quite a few more. The premise is great, the execution however is a bit patchy. The yarns, cameos if you like, are a standout, there are some laugh out loud moments, but they are surrounded by a lot of almost flat stuff, particularly in the middle of the novel where it got really hard to maintain interest. The characters are also a bit patchy - dare I say Satsuma's a bit of a nothing character in the end, but Gary's neighbour Grace is gloriously grumpy, and somebody really needs to put one of toddler safety nets on the couch for her napping dog Lassoo. 

All of that said, it's not a particularly bad outing, it's just not a standout, grab you by the throat, this is great stuff outing. And it's definitely going to be better if you can hear Mortimer's voice when Gary's on the page. 

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My name is Gary. I’m a thirty-year-old legal assistant with a firm of solicitors in London. To describe me as anonymous would be unfair but to notice me other than in passing would be a rarity. I did make a good connection with a girl, but that blew up in my face and smacked my arse with a fish slice.

Gary Thorn goes for a pint with a work acquaintance called Brendan. When Brendan leaves early, Gary meets a girl in the pub. He doesn’t catch her name, but falls for her anyway. When she suddenly disappears without saying goodbye, all Gary has to remember her by is the book she was reading: The Satsuma Complex. But when Brendan goes missing, Gary needs to track down the girl he now calls Satsuma to get some answers.

And so begins Gary’s quest, through the estates and pie shops of South London, to finally bring some love and excitement into his unremarkable life…

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