Kiss Me When I'm Dead
A Charming Little Mystery
Dominic Piper’s Kiss Me When I’m Dead might be a fairly serviceable piece of genre fiction. Or it might be a hoax. At times it seems earnest, and at times it feels like the big twist will be something that throws the whole thing suddenly into the realm of parody.
So here’s the facts, see: Daniel Beckett is a detective in London. But he is in no way a literary child of Holmes and Marple. Dominic Piper’s protagonist and writing are far more reminiscent of Dashiel Hammett. Beckett is a pulp hero in every way. Like the Continental Op or Sam Spade, he shows up ready-made and capable on the first page. One infers he is good looking in a rugged, hyper-masculine way, given the things the ladies tell him. As first person narrator, he never breathes a word of physical description of himself. Naturally, he is a master of martial arts and well versed in espionage tradecraft. Is he also skilled with a lockpick? Of course. A bit of a hacker? Probably. A crack shot? Sure, why not? A master of the ways of loving women? Well, at least all of the women he encounters.
In Dominic Piper’s London, the streets and economy of Britannia churn away in the background. In America, many assume that those streets are populated by reserved, efficient little Englanders in bowler hats whose industrious efforts drive that economy. But in this London, that is not the case at all. Here, all of the men except Daniel Beckett are loathsome idiot knuckle draggers, and all the women are big-bosomed and remarkably randy. Our hero brawls with and ridicules the former and flirts with and beds the latter with great spirit.
In this particular London, a troubled young heiress is kidnapped, and Daniel Beckett is hired to find her. He has been recommended to her father as a capable investigator based on a resume that is somewhat guarded from the reader. He soon follows her trail into London’s high-class internet-connected call girl scene. This, we learn, is a thriving business sector where troubled yet somehow self-assured girls and madams ply a respectable trade by catering to the needs of their utterly despicable customers (and also to bi-curious housewives, who are non-threatening and cute at a conceptual level.)
Spoiler alert! Circa page 10, any reader will realize that there is something a little wrong with the heiress’ arms dealer father, and surmise he is probably going to end up being the villain. This isn’t to say there is no suspense. The story is well paced, and releases information about the antagonist and his crimes at a rate that keeps the pages turning. Other mysteries accompany them, such as that of Daniel Beckett’s secret origin and the exact nature of his irresistibility to women. Some of these puzzles will be solved in the end. Some will not. That’s suspense.
Through all of this, the prose is tight and crisp. London street scenes are well rendered. Fights are described in visceral detail. The clothing and mannerisms of everyone except the narrator are meticulously catalogued. The writing is efficient and well crafted, almost understated at some points. The style is too careful to be a joke throwaway, but the content dances on the edge of comic exaggeration. It sets up an intriguing meta-mystery: Is this guy serious?
It’s a fun question to consider while reading what is, in any event, a fun book to read. In all honesty, I’m mere inches away from simply declaring it a workman-like pulp effort, a solid story that updates all the rugged anti-heroes, crude heels and saucy dames of the old detective noir to modern pop-culture norms. But to say that is potentially to be had. And nobody puts one over on me, see? It’s a charming little mystery.