All My Colors by David Quantick
I would like to thank Lydia from Titan for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review
Publisher - Titan
Price - £7.99 paperback
Published – Out Now
Todd Milstead is a wannabee writer, a serial adulterer, and a jerk, only tolerated by his friends because he throws the best parties with the best booze. During one particular party, Todd is showing off his perfect recall, quoting poetry and literature word for word plucked from his eidetic memory. When he begins quoting from a book no one else seems to know, a novel called All My Colors, Todd is incredulous. He can quote it from cover to cover and yet it doesn’t seem to exist.
With a looming divorce and mounting financial worries, Todd finally tries to write a novel, with the vague idea of making money from his talent. The only problem is he can’t write. But the book – All My Colors – is there in his head. Todd makes a decision: he will ‘write’ this book that nobody but him can remember. After all, if nobody’s heard of it, how can he get into trouble?
As the dire consequences of his actions come home to both Todd and his long-suffering friends, it becomes clear that there is a high – and painful - price to pay for his crime.
It’s generally accepted not to ask an author ‘where do your ideas come from?’ what leads to a creation a book is a very complex confluence of people and events they don’t just sit on a giant shelf awaiting a mind to pick them up…do they? David Quantick in his debut novel imagines though that in 1979 someone does have an entire book arriving in their head…no one else though has heard of it. It’s a bloody cautionary tale of taking credit for other people’s work and a satisfying reversal on a particularly odious lead character.
Todd Milstead is the man who must tell you and all their other friends that you’re wrong and he’s right. He will do this loudly with quotes. He will do this while drunk. Constantly telling you of their genius without being able to point to any specifics. His friends politely ignore him, and his wife Janis sees the end in sight for them (especially as he is having an affair with another woman Sara). He gets incredibly frustrated that there is one book of genius he alone seems to have heard of. But it does indeed seem to be the case that All My Colors by Jake Turner is only now available in Todd’s head. Seeing divorce, eviction and going broke in the near future he is suddenly possessed by the urge to write…in fact his hands won’t stop typing for hours on end…a new copy of All My Colors is submitted and suddenly Todd finds the world of literature and fame on his doorstep and the future looks bright and rich. So why are people he knows dying and a feeling he is being pursued getting ever stronger?
I really enjoyed this tale. There is an unusual arc for the lead character. Todd is initially vile, and the entitled mediocre white man incarnate. You initially enjoy him being told what to do by his hands…even if this means six weeks work at a desk in adult diapers. Watching Janis leave him and his friends move away from him feel quite congratulatory and yet halfway through having all this happen to him makes him finally sober up and perhaps a new relationship with his new partner Sara and a realisation that there may be more to life than fame points to a smidgeon of hope he will take a different path. But as soon as the major publishers offer him book tours and fame the Todd, we remember quickly reappears and that selfishness ends up pushing him over the cliff to what looks an inescapable fate. You feel a curious mix of sadness and then glee as a trap from long ago finally snares him. He is the ultimate cause of his downfall when he could just have turned around and left it there.
Two other highlights for me are the novel’s pace and the humour. Its is always tempting to think of Mr King when you have a book set in the 1970’s focusing on a writer and while I can see some nods to King’s work and style in the tale Quantick provides something much more leaner and fluid. There is a very efficient style of giving you pen portraits of characters and situations and the energy propels you over several months without at any time feeling bloated and in search of an ending. I think the humour helps that even though Todd is genuinely humourless the situations he gets into be it while drunk in a bar; at a bookstore signing or encounters with lawyers all shine with polished humour. You get the sense Todd is often stuck to be the punchline of jokes forever foreshadowing his ultimate encounters. But despite this it is clearly a horro book and when there are moment sof surprise the change in tone can be very effective and you are relaxed and only the reminded that something nasty is lurking in the shadows.
I really think if you’re looking a for a sharp funny horror story that makes you both care for and hate its lead (at the same time) then this would be well worth your time. You may fund yourself grimacing at the boos and then very quickly laughing at the dialogue and descriptions. I will be intrigued how his novel career develops and just hope he doesn’t end up like Todd!