Detective Frank Miller knows he is the fictional hero of the novels written by The Man Upstairs – still, he needs to save Chapeltown from its devious Mayor
Who are you when you are nothing but someone’s imagination? When your life could be over at the stroke of a pen? A character in a book, created to play a role? When you are able to grasp this, to think outside your character, can you take responsibility for your life? What is your life’s purpose if not following another man’s lead?
Detective Frank is a womaniser not afraid to use violence. He is easily excited, for instance when picturing Madge in her blue pyjamas. His stories always end with a beautiful blonde (the colour may vary) in the one and a whisky in the other hand. Literally Frank is one for whom the pen is mightier than the sword as he knows he is the protagonist in novels, written by The Man Upstairs (TMU). Seemingly, Frank is the only one aware of the fact that Chapeltown is an imaginary city with fictional people and whatever they or Frank do or think, is written by TMU, the author of the twenty books in the detective series featuring Frank. Madge wants Frank to commit but he knows, a change in his character will cause TMU to kill him and everyone in Chapeltown, including Madge. But Frank has more worries: he does not trust Mayor Jackson and is suspicious about the Mayor’s Chapeltown Angels (nurses responsible for the city’s elderly).
Frank wants to know why one of the Angels is dead and even he, womaniser as he is, is surprised to find all the Angels are somehow attracted to him. He is only too happy to oblige but little does he know that he has a price to pay. Frank falls in love with one of them but as that would imply a change, causing the end of the book series, he deliberates with himself and with TMU (who does not answer back) what is going on. He decides to check out the earlier stories in the series, especially the thirteenth called The Black Widow, an extremely successful instalment in the series. That was when Frank realised he was a mere puppet, playing to the tune of his master TMU. He knows what is expected of him, the sleuthing and the violence, the girl and the whisky at the end – but does it imply that whatever he thinks is also determined by TMU? If not, could Frank possibly influence TMU with his thoughts and could he change the outcome?
Frank is desperate to find a way to make TMU see that he does not have to go through with his plans. The reader is confused as TMU seems able to shape any destiny, so why should he be even slightly concerned about a single individual like Frank? But using his power to eliminate his creations also means bringing an end to TMU’s own existence and Frank wonders whether TMU will ever go that far. There is also the world of the conspiring Mayor and his Angels and Frank is about to experience the most gruesome abuse against him without any clue as to what is going on and whether he is able to solve this case. Frank is in despair; is he losing his mind or TMU or is Frank losing it because TMU is losing it? Is it possible, this strain of seemingly independent thoughts from a book’s protagonist? Is the reader able to identify with a puppet who endures pain and torture in a way that he seems barely affected by his agony?
At first, this unusual book may be deceiving – it seems a pleasant, cosy detective mystery when Frank Miller, Chapeltown’s detective, gets an anonymous phone call about “trouble with a capital T.” Soon the reader is racking his brain: what is the book about? There is a detective story but also a story within the story and the only one realising this is Frank Miller, the tough cookie detective with his sardonic wit. If Frank is a character, living in TMU’s imagination, how can he know as it is the author, the creator who comes up with the type of person of his (anti)hero – leaving the protagonist no option but to follow, without the ability to think for himself? And who does The Man Upstairs refer to? To a divinity destining life and death or to the intriguing question about our perception of truth. That makes The Man Upstairs a well-written and fascinating existentialist novel in which the existence of two layers contradicts any logic.
About the Author
Mark Fowler is a British author who combines his interest for psychological thrillers, crime fiction and horror in his writings. ‘Coffin Maker’ is his 2014 début novel (my review), followed by ‘The Man Upstairs’ (2015) and ‘Silver’ (2016 – my review).
|Publisher||CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (29 Sept. 2015)|