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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Dead Clever

by
Scarlett Thomas


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Dead Clever



Title: Dead Clever
Author: Scarlett Thomas
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 286 pages
Availability: Dead Clever - US
Dead Clever - UK
Dead Clever - Canada
Eine Klasse für sich - Deutschland
  • A Lily Pascale Mystery

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Our Assessment:

B : solid, if rather run-of-the-mill (aside from the silly crime at the heart of it)

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Dead Clever begins with Lily Pascale leaving her boyfriend and London, and moving back in with her mother and younger brother in Devon. In her mid-twenties, with a literature degree, she hasn't really figured out what to do in life. Fortunately, Mom works at the local university, and in no time at all (literally no time ...) Lily is installed as a lecturer. The previous teacher bolted and one of the students was murdered (found with her head missing ...), and so beyond the usual difficulties of adapting to a new position (she doesn't even have keys to her own office ...) Lily is confronted with more things than a literature-lecturer usually would or should be.
       Her students are pretty much what one might expect from students, though Lily herself comes off as a bit old-fogeyish, especially considering she's so close in age to many of them. But she doesn't do drugs, claims to have always been the designated driver (though she does quite a bit of drinking here), and is rather conservative -- politically and otherwise -- in many of her opinions (vehemently opposed to anything that even suggests, for example, anarchy (even of the superficially oppositional student sort): "I had no desire to live in a society without rules or police and all the things that came with that"). (She's also no big fan of experimental literature -- and, given the position Lily has been given, Thomas gets to have her promote her own views of literature and writing, including basics like: "a story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end".)
       Lily wrote her MA thesis on detective fiction, and is prone to fantasies such as a career in psychology:

I didn't have the qualifications on paper, but then criminal profiling wasn't that different from literary criticism. Both areas involved finding hidden meaning from (often) very few clues; looking for the existence of types and themes -- sequences and character motivation.
       Lily has barely begun to get the lay of the land -- including encounters with the various other curious figures in the department, one of whom she immediately falls for -- before another of her students is dead in an apparent drug overdose. Lily is, of course curious (and suspicious) -- and:
     When I was a child I had adored TV programmes like the Red Hand Gang and the Nancy Drew Mysteries. All of a sudden I smiled as I realised I was living out my childhood fantasy; I was playing detective and it felt rather good.
       No one else seems to be investigating properly, so Lily does, even pretending to be the dead boy's sister and thus getting a clue from a nurse who heard (and conveniently noted down) his final words -- a clue she says: "the police weren't interested in seeing" .....
       Adjusting to being back home, and to a new job -- and colleagues and students --, Lily's adventures and investigations are moderately interesting. In fact, it's the nuttiness of the crime itself that rather spoils things. Lily has wandered into a truly bizarre minefield -- involving a cult, scientific experimentation, and what seems like half the university -- and Thomas has difficulty handling the more preposterous parts of the crime; hack thriller writers can get away with this sort of stuff, because there's a sincerity to their work, but Thomas seems to have just invented a crime to fill in the blanks in her book. (This also stands in contrast to her later novels: these also involve the preposterous, but her heart seems to be in it (and behind it), and so they're entirely (fictionally) convincing.) By the end of the book (which covers only a few weeks time), Lily is (acting) Head of Literature (and solved the crime, too, of course) -- here, and elsewhere, everything is all too easy .....
       A brisk novel, the better parts of Dead Clever are those where the mystery isn't at the forefront. Even so, it is too packed, with Thomas pushing Lily in far too many directions. Still, Thomas tells a decent story (when she doesn't get carried away by ridiculous crime-plots ...) and it is, for the most part, an entertaining read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 December 2009

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Links:

Reviews: Scarlett Thomas: Other books by Scarlett Thomas under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Scarlett Thomas was born in 1972.

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