Crime and Deviance – Week 1 1st October 2004*Dead Famous By Ben Elton*
When 10 happy-go-lucky twenty-something’s enter the ‘Peeping Tom’ house, they have no idea what they are about to encounter.
Dead Famous by Ben Elton delves into the depths of reality television gone wrong. In ‘Big Brother’ style, the ‘Peeping Tom’ house is the setting of a mysterious murder. A murder with no evidence. Elton writes about the contestants of ‘House Arrest’, a brand new reality television programme, what they experience and how they cope on learning that one of their housemates is not returning for the rest of their stay.
But how did this murder take place while the murderer was under the surveillance of thirty cameras, nine other contestants and forty microphones? Due to the fact there is no evidence, all the contestants are suspects.
The writer writes from the perspective that he is a fly on the wall of both the house and the studio where the editing is done and the production staff watch the housemates. It is written in the style of a diary.
The story starts on day twenty-nine, rather than day one, with the police chief inspector trawling through hours of previously recorded footage of the contestants, trying to find out who committed the murder and what their motive was. Each housemate is a suspect and the police go through the contestants in turn, trying to work out their motive for entering the Peeping Tom house. Over the next few chapters, or days how is written, the reader is taken through the journey of Police Chief Inspector Coleridge, who has no idea of the goings-on in the twenty first century, his colleagues and their day to day investigations.
With one housemate being evicted, one arrested and one murdered, it leaves only seven suspects. Seven suspects that each annoys each other equally and the police have a very hard time working out any possible solution.
The police visit the house to try and figure out how the murderer was not seen committing the murder despite the abundance of cameras and microphones. After doing this, they establish the murder was an improvisation. One theory for the murderers motivation was the prize money that the winner would receive. Maybe the murderer thought that the victim, Kelly, was getting too popular in the house and with the public outside, thus having the biggest chance of winning. The murderer might have been so desperate to win the £500 000 prize money, that they felt they had to kill off Kelly to be in with a chance of winning, With this thought, the police research into each of the remaining housemates family backgrounds, to see if winning the prize money would be important to them.
One chapter of the book is very cleverly written, so it leads the reader into thinking that they know who the murderer is. Two of the housemates, Kelly and Hamish, enter the so-called Copulation Cabin in the garden of the house in this chapter. This ‘love-nest’ is a shed like building, which inside, is cosy and warm with lots of cushions and blankets. The producers of the show put it here to try and lure to of the contestants in, to hopefully have sex that could in turn bring up viewing figures. Anyway, Kelly is very drunk, and falls unconscious. Hamish then sexually abuses her under the covers. The next morning, Kelly wakes up and tries to convince herself that nothing happened, however she feels abused. Does Hamish feel that maybe Kelly knows what happened and will tell the police? Does he feel so guilty that he should kill her, just in case she says anything?
The police interview the producers of the show to see why they set specific tasks for the housemates, and why they let them get drunk in the house. This gives them no leads. The producers back up everything by saying that they did it to bring up viewing figures. The police now ponder over the tape from the house cameras that actually has murder on. They know that the murder was an improvisation and that the housemates were drunk, but they still cannot figure out how they could have committed a murder with several cameras and production staff watching. The contestants had just finished the task they had been given, of building a sweatbox. They were in it in the dark drinking a lot of alcohol and they were naked. The body was found in the bathroom. The murderer knew that people where going to have to go the toilet sooner or later and Kelly was the first.
In the production suit, the producers watch as Kelly left the sweatbox and ran to the toilet, where she sat, head in her hands, completely still. Geraldine, the head producer of the show, also at this moment, left to go to the toilet. When Geraldine returned, the flaps to the sweatbox moved. Then a figure, completely covered by the sheets that the producers had left outside the sweatbox so the contestants could cover up when they left, moved silently across the room into the kitchen to pick up a knife out of the drawer. It moved quickly across the floor to the bathroom, where it stabbed Kelly twice.
The police now interview the cameramen and try to assess their timings of the incident. Somehow they don’t quite add up, the cameraman watching Kelly on the toilet say it was about five minutes before Kelly was killed, the ones in the production suite say it was only two. This made Coleridge think. Maybe he knew who the murderer was and how they did it. However he had no proof.
Realising he had no proof, he knew he had to find some before the last day of the show. He knew had to make an arrest then, as this was the last time all of the housemates and production staff would be together. On the night of the final show, he took centre stage and made his statement. He started by revealing who the murderer was not, and in turn, he exposed that none of the nine remaining housemates killed Kelly. He then reveals the motive of the killer. Hatred. And who was it that committed the murder? Geraldine, the production and editing manager. She managed to pause the footage of Kelly on the toilet, while she herself went out of the office. She then committed the murder, and on returning to the office, resuming the footage of Kelly and the other housemates.
This book has been written very cleverly by Elton, leaving the reader until the very end, with no hint of knowing whom the murderer was. He goes into depth about how the police act and how they treat each suspect and the motivation of the killer. It is a very good whodunit that is thoroughly entertaining.