Reviewed by Alex S. Bradshaw
The novella Becoming David is a ‘what if?’ story: what if the killer had an attack of conscience? We follow Richard Lodge, a serial killing cannibal, as his perfectly crafted world unravels when his conscience makes itself heard.
Following a brief tour of his immaculate home we meet Richard Lodge as he dispatches another victim. The descriptions are not overly gruesome or gratuitous: detailed but with the same, fitting distance that a butcher would give to the preparation of livestock. It is the second death we see, that of the titular David, when the story really begins to take off.
David, despite being a distraction for no longer than any other victim, gets inside Richard’s head and it is through David that Richard’s conscience begins to surface. At first just David’s voice haunts Richard but we soon see David taking a much more direct approach to trying to bring his killer to justice.
It was an interesting approach to the idea of subconscious guilt and what ways, when taken to their horrific extreme, they might manifest themselves. There didn’t seem to be much reason to Richard’s killing spree beyond stocking his freezer which I found made it hard to understand Richard. Additionally as the remorse and guilt are kept completely separate from serial killer Richard and are only displayed within David’s character I felt that this hindered the development of a character arc.
With that said, the themes explored within the novella, whether a person can change and how one deals with guilt, have kept me turning over the story and characters in my head. In a couple of places the questions were slightly bluntly dealt with but the more I thought about the overall questions in the context of Richard’s character the more engaging they became.
Within the overarching framework of the story the prose itself is well crafted. The words carefully chosen for maximum effect and it certainly added a dimension to the narrative as it fit snugly into the impression of the immaculate Richard’s world with everything being fine-tuned and in its place.
I did feel that there was a tendency in some places to labour a descriptive passage and linger on something that could have been dealt with faster if the writing had been pruned a little more but this was rare and the paragraphs would only overextend for a sentence or so.
Pacing was kept quick and the story was pushed along. Sloman didn’t let his characters sit and gaze longingly into the middle-distance, every scene pushed the action and the story forward.
It was an interesting story, one that left me considering its questions for a while afterwards, which is always a good thing. The writing was well formed and the pace kept quick but it took me a little while to get to grips with the separated way the character was developed.
Overall, I enjoyed the story though there were some parts that I found difficult. I will be keeping an eye on Phil Sloman’s other work as I am interested to see what he can do with a story longer than a novella.