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"Mr. Toppit" by Charles Elton

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In an exceedingly funny debut, Charles Elton hoists modern fame-hungry society on its petard of greed, ego, and hypocrisy. “Mr. Toppit” features oddballs and prickly characters galore, and the strife between and within these denizens lurks never very far from the surface and frequently boils over. Almost never have I laughed out loud so often reading a book.
A Modesto, California, woman takes a vacation in London in the early days of Reagan and Thatcher. It’s somewhat out of character for her … she’s pretty much a homebody, heavily involved in volunteer work, and is taking her initial trip without her friend from work. Chance puts her on the scene of the accidental death of an obscure author of children’s books, who says a few fateful dying words to her, and the rest, as they say, is history. Laurie, the citizen of Modesto, gloms on to the poor man’s family and his nearly unknown books, and through a series of – maybe serendipitous – circumstances, the books become overwhelmingly popular. With popularity comes wealth of course, but for whom? It also brings lack of privacy, as everyone in the family finds out to their chagrin.

All this is told from the point of view of Luke, the author’s son, for whom the main character in the books is named. Luke ages from a very believable twelve to a very believable mid-20s. Although a handful of voices propel the narrative, it all comes through Luke’s filter. Our eponymous Mr. Toppit is the almost-never-seen villain in the series of books written by the deceased author, and commands fear and revulsion from his lair – over the books and over this book. His presence comes through in the way these people mistreat each other, grab at fame and fortune, and generally make oh-so-modern asses of themselves. Lest we lose focus, Luke, our nearly imperturbable narrator, presents all from his bemused and put-upon perspective. This is exceedingly funny stuff, remember. It skewers our modern TV-and-trappings mores beautifully, unerringly. It indicts us through its very accuracy.

I always assume it’s my fault, but I became a little confused about certain characters’ chronology at the end. But never mind that. If you want to read a marvelously-voiced, wickedly accurate reflection of our modern A.D.D.-addled society, pick this up.
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