With Gagged (a thriller with jokes), Asplin tells the tale of two wannabe writers based in London who get caught up in a whirlwind plot involving blackmail, kidnapping, murder, mobsters, cowboys and journalism, all set to a Hollywood backdrop.
It tears along at a cracking pace for the most part, and the swift introduction of characters in the early chapters is initially quite daunting. Several times throughout the book I had to pause for thought to try and remember who was who in the big scheme of things. That’s not a fault of the book, I imagine, more so my own capacity for keeping track of things.
The story is sprinked with gags, asides, and comedic set-pieces that have a laugh out loud quality to them, and always stay the right side of farce. Some of them work, some of them don’t, but the story is never so concerned with grabbing a cheap laugh that it detracts from what’s going on in the first place. If one particular line doesn’t strike you as funny, the chances are there’ll be three or four more on the following page or two that will make you crack a smile.
Each of the characters is nicely fleshed out, if a little clichéd on occasion, and most of them get a decent amount to do and say without simply being dragged along to feed lines or make up the numbers. That’s quite a talent in itself, if I might say so, as many a revered author has struggled with less of a cast than Gagged has at its disposal.
You’re not going to like all of them – well, I certainly didn’t care for the pushy journalist, Diane, who seemed just that much more of a moving plot device than the rest of them. Still, she’s part of what it’s all about in Hollywood – the big story and the hunt for a scandal at any cost.
Ben, the main protagonist, and his long suffering girlfriend, Jackie, are nicely constructed and I felt great empathy for the pair of them. In fact, there aren’t too many characters I didn’t identify with, or relate to on some level, except for those who were quite obviously black and white. Even Zak, the laid back, Californian duuude who’s striving to be an actor is fleshed out just enough to make him that much more convincing as a character. Each has their place in the story and each of them contributes in some way that might not seem immediately obvious.