The premise of ‘The Cambridge List’, a self-published book by Robert Clear, is intriguing. The Greek Gods, taking up residence in the head of a failed Cambridge Classics student, have come up with a list of Classics lecturers who they want killed. The rather unappealing hero of the book is James Connor, with the Greek Gods in his head, and over the course of the book he works his way through the list. This idea is patchily pulled off. The concept itself is clever, and through the book the quality of writing picks up, however Clear never really escapes writing over-melodramatic prose.
At times, particularly earlier in the book, it isn’t entirely clear whether Clear is attempting to be funny, and if he is he rather fails. That said, the plot itself is fairly entertaining, and clips along at a reasonable pace. The book is a times reminiscent of Roald Dahl, but lacking the appealing main characters and a lot of the wit of Dahl. Throughout the book, there are literally no characters, with the possible exception of the Muse, who garner any sympathy. There is at times a strong sense of misogyny, mitigated only by the fact the author clearly dislikes most of his male characters too.
Clear writes massively unappealing characters, some of whom die repulsive deaths. There is a sense of gleeful voyeurism and darkness during the murder scenes, which, regardless of the rest of the book, will probably upset more sensitive readers. This clearly shows one problem with self-published books, that marketing is one of the things publishers do well. There is no indication, in the marketing of this book, the level of violence and sex it contains. This reviewer confesses to being rather sensitive to violence, but suspects that any film made of this book would garner an 18 certificate purely for one particular murder scene.
The ending of this book is rather inconclusive, and is clearly leaving room for a sequel. Should one appear, this reviewer does not have any plans to read it. Nevertheless, this book was fairly entertaining once it got into its stride (and Clear stopped writing about how the main character’s “erection breached the elasticated perimeter of his boxers and poked its own head over the parapet” (p 27)). This book escaped one of the problems with self-publishing; it is clearly well proofread, although it would probably have benefited from a professional editor. It might appeal to readers with a dark sense of humour. One potential selling point is that it is set in Cambridge, but any readers attracted to that aspect should bear in mind that there are many far better books available which are set there.