Dylan is a 15-year-old with a problem; he appears to have burnt down his friend Beth’s house. He thinks (quite naturally) that he’s spoilt his chances with her and plans to rob a bank to reimburse her (as you do). The fire, however, proves to be merely the first incident in an accident-prone narrative that blunders from one calamity to another. Along the way our protagonist learns a thing or two about growing up and facing reality, and is somehow blessed with a positive outcome in the end.
This book is fitfully funny and certainly entertaining, with a genuinely tense finale. Appropriately enough cinematic references abound, Dylan’s dad being something of a film buff whose watching of Dog Day Afternoon inadvertently sows the seed of robbery in Dylan’s mind. (Buster Keaton is also mentioned, although the novel’s comedy of errors recalls Laurel and Hardy more than anyone else.) I wasn’t laughing from the get-go at the mayhem, but it eventually reaches a critical mass, which results in a capitulation; for me that moment came with the scene in which a pair of trousers bursts into flames. The slightly ludicrous premise doesn’t curb your enjoyment or sympathy for our honourable, if hapless, (anti)hero. There’s also a smidgen of sociology concerning ‘broken Britain’, mildly dysfunctional families, and exam anxiety, and an assortment of other general knowledge titbits that, usually amusingly, pepper the prose.