Suraya chose to read and review Kill Line by Robert Leigh
The Kill Line
By Robert Leigh
My first reaction to this novel was, ‘you have to be kidding me’ then I thought it must be a black comedy. That was how I got past the vividly described first murder of many. “Kill Line’ is aptly named.
Inbound call centre representative Shaun has his own unique way of dealing with difficult customers. They have to pass a series of tests before they get nominated for the dubious honour of receiving a personal call from Shaun.
The process dehumanises the victim. This is where things get tricky because I ended up wondering whom the victim was….the caller or Shaun. He was likable and the abusive callers sounded thoroughly unlikable.
This is the reason it becomes possible to accept what Shaun does. This is black comedy at its most compelling.
I found myself pausing every so often to ask why I kept reading Shaun’s gruesome tale. I realised the reason was that I found Shaun a fascinatingly complex character and in some ways, I empathised with him. What is really funny is, he has a checklist of things ‘customers’ say when they call in and if the abusive caller misses one of the steps then that person is saved from a very unpleasant end.
I found his list very believable. I would hate to be a call centre operator because while I’m sure there are some very pleasant callers out there these would be outweighed by unpleasant ones, I’m sure. I have only to think about being a call centre representative for Inland Revenue (Tax) department and I have no difficulty imagining how a person might feel at the end of a shift.
Shaun manages his double life remarkably well even when a former girlfriend re-enters his life. How does she not guess he is a psychopath?
And there are some amazing mental and physical contortions Shaun goes through to keep his secret from everyone. I will leave the reader to find out how his long-time friend, Matt fares.
His barbecue was just amazing. So glad I did not get an invite.
The thing is the author creates believable scenarios for believable circumstances and that takes real writing skill.
If you do not have the stomach for gory detail then this novel comes with a warning.
E.L. chose to read and review Kill Line by Robert Leigh
Kill Line is a dark comedy that offers a perfect snapshot of modern life. Robert Leigh skilfully taps into the simmering rage that, for most of us, never seems too far away and embodies it in his likeable and, on the surface oh so reasonable, protagonist.
Due to being made redundant, Shaun is a put upon call centre operative who is forced to endure all of the abuse and boredom that goes along with the job. Despite his efficiency, Sean is often subjected to the rage of the callers who, in the safety of their own home and protected by the distance of the phone line, insult and denigrate him. Whilst visiting one such caller in the hope of getting him to see the error of his ways, Shaun accidentally kills him and thus a side career in murder is born.
All of Shaun’s intelligence and energy, which is wasted in the call centre, becomes focussed on planning the murders. Consequently, it’s through his side project that Shaun finds fulfilment and a sense of accomplishment. In fact, Shaun’s particular skill set means that he takes to serial killing like a duck to water. He is precise, well read and thorough in his research. All of the characters that get to know Sean comment on his intelligence and the fact that he’s wasted in a call centre.
Despite the fact that he’s a cold blooded killer, Shaun is a very engaging character with whom it’s easy for the reader to identify. Leigh employs the use of first person narrative and his conversational style means we soon feel as if we know Shaun. In fact, in the beginning there are two Shauns, the Shaun who makes the decision to kill and his horrified conscience. Leigh cleverly shows how the disparity between the two lessens as the novel goes on, however, and by the end the two are of the same mind.
Shaun is a complex, interesting character who has been forced to live a life not of his choosing. Due to the economic recession, he has few employment options and he lives alone in his childhood home. He is still reeling from the death of his parents and, in his low moments, is haunted by their suffering. He hasn’t changed anything in the house, except to add a large “American fridge”, that is at odds with the rest of the house. The fridge is no doubt a metaphor for Shaun’s desire to escape from the limited world he’s forced to inhabit.
What I really like about this book is the way it highlights the shabbiness of modern Britain. Shaun lives in Holtenthorpe which could represent any industrial town or city, defined by the misery of poverty and unemployment once the industry has collapsed. Where once factories might have stood, there are industrial estates with the new versions of factories – call centres. Leigh’s depiction of life inside a call centre is vivid and authentic and anyone who works in a target driven occupation, complete with robot style managers and meaningless business acronyms will identify with Shaun and his co-workers. The grey monotony of life in the call centre is almost unbearable.
Leigh’s novel is an indictment of the kind of politics that view people as a commodity. Labour Right is a government funded agency that forces unemployed people into jobs that aren’t worth having. The complete lack of humanity within these companies, that we all know exist in cities the length and breadth of the UK, see characters such as Marie, a fifty something woman made redundant after twenty three years working in a bank, tossed carelessly aside in favour of the more malleable twenty somethings. Anyone who complains about the working conditions find themselves ‘moved on’.
Although Leigh’s story is told in a way that is both thought provoking and humorous, make no mistake, it is also brutally violent. As Shaun embarks on his killing spree, all of the emasculation he has been made to feel, finds release in pure, unadulterated rage. Leigh’s talent lies in the way he allows us to identify with Shaun in such a way that we feel nothing for his victims. Shaun has devised a set of rules which he uses to decide whether an abusive caller deserves to die or not and, as we become caught up in his world, his reasoning seems quite fair. However, things change when Shaun kills someone who hasn’t broken the rules. We find ourselves pulling away from him and then when he meets suicidal Hazel Downs, we see him for the psychopath that he actually is. By the end, we have no idea what will become of him as he has passed a point of no return.
Kill Line is the perfect combination of playful and deadly serious. It’s probably not a story for anyone easily offended but, if you like a dark, clever and laugh out loud read, then you’ll love it. I know I did!
Terry chose to read and review Kill Line by Robert Leigh
Kill Line by Robert Leigh
5 out of 5 stars
I liked this book a lot, so much that I’ve already downloaded Robert Leigh’s latest one, Any Man Joe.
Shaun Dolan works in a call centre, and murders customers who are unnecessarily rude to him. Yet I still kind of liked the guy. I didn’t want him to get caught. That’s a real art – making the reader root for a brutal psychopath. Oh dear, I hope it’s not just me…
The strength of this book is the sharp observation by which the characters have been created, from Shaun’s boozy mates, to the chav ex-girlfriend, to the begging victims Barry Johnson and the revoltingly pompous Derek Page-Dove (great name!), and, best of all – the ghastly, dreadful supervisors and management at Skymiles and Calltex call centre. Well done, Robert Leigh – the section in the middle about the changeover from Skymiles to Elevation, with all its corporate BS, is a masterpiece – it’s obvious the author has worked in one of those places, and the production of this novel must have made every soul destroying moment worth it. The dialogue is spot on, with every awful buzzword and phrase these people use; yes, and don’t they always refer to their staff, etc, as ‘you guys’??! Ugh!
This is not a novel for the squeamish; the violence is graphic, and you’ll want to weep for the victims. But it’s kind of funny. If you can believe that. Not laugh out loud funny, but witty and clever.
I wavered between 4 and 5 stars all the way through it, eventually deciding on 5*. I think it needs some tidying up, I thought the Harry Collins part was too much, and I was a tiny bit disappointed by the ending, but these are very minor complaints (in fact, not even complaints), are only my opinion, and the good bits are so very good that I couldn’t have given it less.