The Quorum by Kim Newman - author of several novels including Anno Dracula - is a Faustian tale for the nineties. The Forum are a small group of friends, together from childhood, whose lives take on dramatically different paths. Mark, Mickey and Michael take the shining path to glittering careers unable to do anything wrong while Neil Martin is plagued by misfortune at every turn, unable to do anything right.
What is the secret behind the three's success? What is their link with the shadowy media magnate, Derek Leech? And what, in the end, is the 'perfect sacrifice'? Newman tells all by the use of extended flashback, tight characterisation and fairly tight plotting.
The characterisation in The Quorum is interesting in its ambiguity. While Neil is the most obviously sympathetic character, Newman is able to fill in the other Quorum members beautifully so that the reader is engaged in all of their stories. He seems to write from knowledge - Mickey Yeo bears a striking resemblace to a well-known comics author; Michael Dixon is a clever amalgam of a number of TV personalities/authors; Mark Amphlett is a convincing 'style guru' - and even manages to write the four well as children: the lonely, intelligent, grammar school boys who together create intricate games and a lifelong friendships.
The other characters, especially Leech, and the private investigator and single mother, Sally Rhodes, are also well written. Even Leech, notionally the 'bad guy' can be understood to some extent, while the other characters - hippies and skinheads, brightly smiling PRs and complicit partners - provide colour and often humorous asides. Of course, Newman is here blessed with inside knowledge: apart from his novel writing he also writes film reviews for a popular cinema magazine and appears regularly on TV arts programmes, so has had an insight into the glittery world of the media. And he pulls no punches: he is cynical about this world and has a point to be made about the transient nature of this kind of fame.
As in Anno Dracula, Newman lets the characters and plot provide the interest and his writing is terse and unaffected. At first the non-linear nature of the novel is a little distracting but I found it very easy to pick up and the flashbacks probably work better than a linear plot could do, retaining our interest and a little suspense and interspersing the moments of dark comedy (and some parts of this novel are very funny, almost slapstick, humour) with rueful humour and high drama.
The Quorum is not a brilliant novel - it doesn't have any real message that hasn't been made before; it doesn't break new ground nor is it so well written as to set it apart - but it is better than most novels of its type, and its characterisation and humour make it well worth the read.