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by Julian Clary

4*

I adored Julian Clary’s last novel, the deliciously bitchy Devil in Disguise, so was very excited to get my hands on his new offering and wasn’t in the least disappointed; this is, if anything, even better than his last.

Set simultaneously in the present day and the 1930s, Briefs Encountered parallels the real-life story of Noel Coward’s doomed love affair with the love of his life, Jack Wilson – and a fictional tale, of successful actor Richard Stent and his lover, Fran. Fran’s acting career is taking off in America as ageing Richard’s is losing momentum back home in England. Is history about to repeat itself? Well yes… and no – and to say more would spoil the book completely.

The house itself – Goldenhurst, once Cowards home and now Clary’s – is almost a character in its own right, it certainly seems to have a mind of its own and opinions on the behaviour of its inhabitants. Julian Clary writes himself in as the former owner, driven away –in a delicious parody of Coward’s famous comedy, Blithe Spirit – when a drunken séance shakes a host of ghosts awake, ghosts who continue to haunt the new owner, including Noel Coward himself. It seems the ghosts know something Richard doesn’t; are they trying to scare him off, or warn him?

As well as Clary himself, other celebs make guest-appearances, most notably Paul O Grady ( the author’s close personal friend and neighbour). Most of the comedy is to be found in these passages, and the comedy is pure Julian Clary, all bitchy observation and camp-asides, all of it gloriously laugh-out-loud funny.

But, delicious as the comedy is, it’s just the froth, resting lightly on the surface of a much darker tale, of betrayal, madness, jealousy and revenge that spans the decades.

Packed with humour, wit, warmth, pathos, dark tragedy and a pleasing twist at the end, this is a rattling good read; wonderful material for a TV miniseries or film. Julian Clary is proving himself to be a first class novelist, I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

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