BOOK REVIEW: Brighton Schlock by Merryman Downes

January 28, 2023

Brighton Schlock

Merryman Downes

Review:  Eric Page

Merryman Downes has served up a riot of clashing narratives here, with their first novella based in and around Brighton and Sussex. The somewhat elaborate and baroque plots of gothic noir – feeling like a queer Tom Sharpe – take us on a journey, which is geographically familiar for those who live and love in this glittery queer ghetto by the sea but also journeys way, way out there into the world of unexplained, paranormal, conspiracy and police procedural, all whipped up with a hefty dose of dark humour.

We get to explore what happens when a biker drag queen uncovers an evil trafficking plot, helped by a dominatrix side-kick from the flat downstairs; your teenage GBF turns out to be related to you; shredding machines and other devices take on a life of their own; and horny gargoyles abseil into drug-fuelled cocktail parties whilst a secret elect group of people with astonishing powers combine to deal with accidental astral body-snatching.

It’s a trippy narrative held together by a peculiar plot device of a remote control with paranormal and temporal powers and two rather naughty boys from one of the ‘Deans in Brighton. Schlock has what feels like three partial books put together like a huge, creamy Victoria sponge; they all work, and work well together, based in shared locales and with Downes’ deeply ironic prose gluing it together. Schlock feels like the first of a series based in this fantastical Para-Brighton.

Downes has an addiction to extravagant names which I found slightly irritating, but then I skip names of more than two syllables in any book – Dickens damaged me and I’ve never truly recovered from the trauma of Polly Toodle and Mr. Pumblechook. Some may feel it adds to the  charms of this fast-paced novel, generating them all must keep the author busy on a quiet night.

I enjoyed it; it’s a rich, heady confection of daftness. The story holds its own with an internal consistency and a feeling of a believable magical world, not a shimmy and a shudder away from the one we inhabit.

Woven through with some rather tart social commentary, lots of fun poking at the stylish social mores of Brighton By Sea, plenty of inclusive LGBTQ+ content, one of two stand out characters and a vein of wickedness so dark it’s worth relishing, Brighton Schlock is gleeful crepuscular fun.

Out now in paperback, £5.99. 

For more info check out the publisher’s website here: