“It was a thick hardback – The Satsuma Complex. The jacket was dark blue and in the middle of the front cover there was a large satsuma orange, with the silhouette of a squirrel inside. It looked shit.” – Bob Mortimer, The Satsuma Complex.
Do not sell yourself short, Mortimer. From just half a page, the colloquial, humorous charm of Mortimer is asserted. The Satsuma Complex is light and breezy reading for those that can imagine the latter half of Reeves and Mortimer reading out an oddity in long form. His prose throughout feels frequently narrative, visual too. The Satsuma Complex does not have the structure that would usually be held to that sort of writing style, but Mortimer cuts through with clear, short sentences and weird detail that would otherwise be left in the first draft. It is a breath of fresh air and a light bit of fun with those ever-present hilarities so frequently found in his work on television. A big-screen adaptation of The Satsuma Complex may spring to mind immediately for the more imaginative.
As it rolls on, Mortimer begins to loosen from a well-served comedy structure in the first act into some genuine, very clever moments of keen detective work. The spiral of Gary into what is an underbelly of crime, corruption and solid steak and potato pies is as lightly delivered as it is committed and firmly rounded. Even within that and the solid character workings throughout are well-engaged breaks. The Satsuma Complex is paced beautifully and makes for a very light and engaged read, its solidification of consistency quite the treat for those that thought comedians and those in the public spotlight would not be up to the task of firing through with genuine dramatics or well-made reading material. It gives new light to what those in the comedic sphere can offer, a transition that gives Mortimer a chance at being quite the novelist.
Much of that comes from a surprising level of cemented qualities and flickers of prose. Long-running sentences break the flow of shorter spats of tension in previous chapters. A knack for rummaging through the past and making the backstory, character relationships and build-up as natural and entertaining as possible. The Satsuma Complex’s structure is surprisingly good, especially given that it could buckle under the fruitier concepts at any moment. Its simplicity in the story, the descriptions of it and the locations are inherent to the colloquial charm that comes from its South London-set features. There is a charming flow to that, utilised well by the prose Mortimer offers. He captures the heart of a single, middle-aged solicitor, using throwaway descriptions of bananas mixed with hot concrete to underline a real, authentic style.
Coffee as an emergency service, longing for the return of a meet-cute and murdered friends all pile onto The Satsuma Complex and it is the great range and loose style of Mortimer that keeps it afloat. It is a book for those that find themselves set in their temporary ways, the “abandoned fridge” lifestyle as Mortimer so comically calls it. The Satsuma Complex is lovely, light and charming. A bit like a Battenberg slice, which Gary appears fond of throughout. Grace, Emily and company make for good subplot devices, nice intermissions to break the flow of thought that Gary often presents. There is a multitude of narrative threads and figures under this surface, knocking back and forth with real fun and commitment to the mystery at the heart of it.