Is there anyone out there who is an admirer of Charles Pooter? For the uninitiated, Mr Pooter was the fictional author of the The Diary of A Nobody. It is set in 1890s London, and was actually written by George Grossmith and illustrated by his brother Weedon. Mr Pooter is totally ‘above himself’, full of his own self-importance, but regarded with ill-concealed mirth by those he believes to be beneath him. Mr Pooter is a character upon whom many later comedy characters – for example Anthony Aloysius Hancock and Basil Fawlty – are based.
I must explain the apparent digression before you lose interest. Use your imagination. Conjure up a dreadful genetic experiment which breeds a being who, especially in his diarist’s style of first person narrative, shows very Pooteresque tendencies. But – and it is a ‘but’ the size of a third world country – the mad scientist has added Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter into the mixing bowl, and then seasoned it with an eye-watering pinch of Patrick Bateman. What do you get? You get Dyson Devereux, Head of Cemeteries and Burials with Paleham Council.
Dyson first burst into view in Portman’s novel Necropolis, rather like the nasty homunculus which disturbed John Hurt’s dinner in Alien. Like that creature, Dyson Devereux was implacable, cunning – and utterly malevolent. In Necropolis he went about his day job with an almost autistic attention to detail – while managing to commit several violent murders. He was smart enough to outwit the police, but has, wisely, decided to move from one council district to another.
Now in Paleham, he has sired a child, Horatio. He has fallen out, however, with Horatio’s mother Rakesha who, in turn, has taken up with a fairly revolting specimen (by Dyson’s very high standards) called Jeremiah. Most of the people in Dyson’s life who he dislikes – and like the biblical unclean spirit they are legion – are given disparaging nicknames, and Rakesha’s new love is called Free Lunch. Dyson’s colleagues within the bureaucratic hub of Paleham Borough Council include Inappropriate Short Skirt, Sullen Goth and, most despised of all,Ludicrous Tie (aka Bryan).
Improbably, Paleham is twinned with the Italian town of Rovito, and after their funzionari del consiglio comunale have paid a visit to their English counterparts, it is the turn of the Paleham officers to travel to Italy. Dyson, by the way, speaks fluent Italian. His linguistic talents are considerable. He is very concerned that Horatio’s nursery school doesn’t offer Latin, and so he is determined to teach the little chap himself. Before the Italian trip departs, however, Dyson has finally lost patience with Free Lunch and murdered him. He methodically dismembers the offending individual and disposes of the bits. Unfortunately for him, Free Lunch’s head breaks free from the stones which were meant to keep it at the bottom of the local canal, and after its discovery, Dyson becomes a person of interest to the local constabulary.
The trip to Italy temporarily removes Dyson from the cross-hairs of the local police, and also the relatives of the late lamented Jeremiah, who are out for vengeance. What follows is brilliantly inventive, murderous and breathtakingly funny. Guy Portman doesn’t reveal too much about himself, even on his website, but he must, at some point, have worked in some kind of public services environment. All the devils are here – the pomposity, the endless Powerpoint presentations (complete with printout), the daily genuflection at the the altar of Health and Safety, the woeful political correctness, the corruption of the English language, the cheap suits and – for ever and ever amen – the second-rate minds doing second-rate jobs.
I don’t often issue health warnings, but if you are easily offended and believe that some things should never be satirised, then don’t go near Sepultra. If on the other hand, you think, “what the hell, one dance with the Devil won’t hurt..” or if you love brilliant writing and vengeful black humour that up-ends modern society and kicks it in the head – then Sepultura should be the next book on your bedside table. It is out now, and published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing.