Mr Manners has a lot in common with D-Fens, the character so memorably brought to life by Michael Douglas in the movie ‘Falling Down’. Both stories focus on the moment when an overloaded psyche finally submits to the strain of the modern urban environment and all its severe social stresses. Some people would crawl into a hole at this point, whimpering. But instead both D-Fens and Mr Manners explode in the opposite direction. They don’t internalise their angst, oh no. Not a bit of it. Instead an entire lifetime of anger and previously undirected rage comes spewing out in a torrent of violent encounters. D-Fens reacts against the unfairness of his situation: Mr Manners can’t tolerate the sheer bloody rudeness of the people around him for one more single moment. And Mr Manners really isn’t someone you’d want to meet in a dark alley. Or even a well-lit pub, come to that. His justice is summary and his sentence is carried out almost immediately with enraged brutality.
However, although ‘Manners Cost Everything’ and ‘Falling Down’ share a similar theme, they tell very different stories indeed. Author Paul Chambers has created a remarkable character in his protagonist. While D-Fens is at heart an upstanding citizen – he could be any middle-aged, middle-class parent pushed over the edge – Mr Manners is a very different sort of psycho. For one thing, his alter-ego, Robbie, is entirely unaware of the vicious vengeance which Manners delivers with mounting malice. Robbie is a bit of a lad, one of the boys, a travelling salesman type who comes over like he’s god’s gift to the opposite sex. He’d certainly be up for copping a quick feel on a crowded train when the opportunity (and its inevitable consequence) arise. Robbie seems to be an old-fashioned chauvinist and possibly a misogynist to boot, but despite his leering and sexual adventuring he doesn’t quite step over the line into rape, murder and bodily disfigurement. No, he lets his silent partner do that. After particularly galling encounters, Robbie blacks out… and Mr Manners takes the helm. With fatal results for any person who makes the mistake of disrespecting either persona.
Told in short, sharp and easily digested segments, the opening adventure of Mr Manners mixes a nostalgic romp back to the 1990s with the visceral impact of a Death Wish movie. But there’s also a more thoughtful side to the story. This focuses on the investigating detective, a damaged man who’s been personally affected by Mr Manner’s killing spree – a complicated character, haunted by the ghost of his dead sister who helps (sort of) with his investigation. In a particularly effective macabre touch, before the ghostly sibling can speak, she must first spit out her own fingers from her dead mouth. You’ll have to read it to find out why!
There are moments when Manners takes revenge on people who so obviously deserve it that it’s kinda hard not to revel in his activity. Bad drivers and people who are cruel to animals – well, they deserve a good kicking (and worse), don’t they? But there are other situations which are not so clear cut; where the punishment he metes out leaves the original ‘sin’ in the shade. Don’t give this guy a brusque brush off, girls: he won’t take it lightly, and brain tissue is so hard to wash out of your frock…
Paul Chambers writes with an easy, accessible style and the chapters are short, sharp and frequently shocking. It’s easy to gallop through ‘Manners Cost Everything’ in a couple of wide-eyed sittings, waiting for the next act of calculated cruelty to unfold in front of your eyes.
It’s only afterwards that you start to wonder if the moral of the story is as entirely clear-cut as it’s initially presented. And that, I guess, won’t become clear until the second book in the trilogy is published…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Manners Cost Everything by Paul Chambers is available as an ebook and paperback