So, right, the other day I decided to do a bit of decorating. Nothing fancy, just a bit of a strip and tidy up. No, stripping the wallpaper, you filthy, filthy minded reader you, and tidying up the paintwork, not my pub… yes, well, that’s quite enough of that. Oh, you knew what I meant? You guys, you do like to wind me up.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, stripping.
So, there I was, merrily stripping away, when I noticed something behind a little bit of wallpaper hanging loose just begging to be torn off. Curious, I thought. So, putting my clothes back, on I picked up my little scraper and started scraping away at the wallpaper. I think that the previous decorating person must’ve used superglue because that bugger was propers hard to shift. It clung to my wall like Spider-Man after he’d been forced to flee when caught raiding a jam warehouse and had opened and sampled every jar. He does like his jam, that Spider-Man. If I was you I would l keep your jam securely locked away in a strong cupboard otherwise the cheeky, spidery bastard will have it. Bear in mind that he’s a strong chap as well, so don’t buy a cheap lock or you’ll end up regretting it. It’s true. It happened to my mate’s aunt’s penpal in New York. He said it happened and who am I to argue, so you can stop with that look on your face. Look, do you want to read this review or not because I have a right mind to stop right here and leave it. Do you? Hmm? Okay then, so, wallpaper, stripping, mystery stuff hidden behind… shall we continue?
After a bit of a tug and tussle… sigh.. NOOO… with the wallpaper… you’re beginning to get on my wick now… I had the lot off and I stood back amongst the little, torn and jagged corpses of the wallpaper all around me. Farewell wallpaper, you put up a good fight, but in the end the best man won, so, like, ner!
Well, I expected some child like graffiti to greet me, maybe a ‘Bazza woz ere’ or ‘dad smells’ type thing, but no! What I had discovered was truly amazing. Written in a beautiful font in the neatest handwriting I have ever seen, was a message. No, it was more than a message; it spoke to me, calling me as if telling me a story.
It was, in fact, a blurb:
“IN THE BUILDING GAME TIME IS MONEY AND MONEY IS EVERYTHING. UNFORTUNATELY FOR MARK POYNTER, HE’S RUN OUT OF MONEY AND HE’S FAST RUNNING OUT OF TIME.
When Mark Poynter discovers a murder on his worksite all of his financial problems suddenly seem a lot closer to home: was this a warning his debts are overdue?
Suspected of being the killer and worried at being the intended victim, the murder only makes Mark’s money problems worse, leading him to turn to the local villain, Hamlet, who has his own unique repayment plan in mind for Mark.
When two more deaths plunge him even further into debt, Mark finds himself faced with a choice – help the Police and clear his name or help the villain and clear his debt.
Set in the Medway Towns on the grey margins of criminality, where no job’s too big, no dodge’s too small…
Death Of A Painter is the first in a new series of darkly comic crime fiction novels featuring the beleaguered builder Mark Poynter, aided and hindered in equal measure by his trusted crew of slackers, idlers and gossips, and the lengths they go to just to earn a living.”
The history of decorating is a long and varied one. It is believed to have begun in the Stone Age when an enterprising young caveman, their name lost unto the mists of time, but for now let’s call them Caveavaggio, was rather taken by the muddy daubings upon their cave wall placed there accidentally by their child one day. Instead of chastising the child, Caveavaggio stood back and realised that these childish handprints formed a pattern and actually brightened the place up a bit. Caveavaggio dipped his own hands in the mud and, cautiously at first, continued where his child had left off and soon the cave walls were covered. Pride swelled in his primitive chest for he had discovered painting. Very soon other caveholds from across the Stone Age flocked around to see his ‘handy work’ (in fact, this is believed to be where the word first originated. Much later the spelling changed to the ‘handiwork’ we are all familiar with now, but I’ve no idea why so don’t ask). We know all this because as time passed the story was handed down from generation to generation and, as the art form developed from simple muddy hands to more complicated shapes and pictures, someone decorated their own cave with the whole story. So it must be true.
Eventually someone had the bright idea to remove the hairs from horse’s tails and tie them to a wooden handle to create a brush. This made painting far easier as up to that point people used to just dip the horses tail into the mud and back the horse up to the wall. As you can imagine this was very unwieldy and not without its dangers. After the advent of the brush, painting really took off. Everyone could decorate, not just those with a horse. Brushes could be attached to long poles to reach high places whereas before the whole rigamarole of getting a horse onto a platform high up was very stressful and led to many a mishap I can tell you. Of course no one had invented scaffolding yet which only added to the problems.
As you can imagine all of this became very time consuming and, once the novelty had worn off, your average cavesperson just couldn’t be arsed to do their own decorating. So, people started to offer their services to others in exchange for a few extra rocks to put on the fire, or a few pebbles to trade in for food, clothing etc. And thus the professional painter and decorator was born.
After this various other trades followed. The Romans, they invented plumbing – laying down pipes and halfpipes hither and thither to carry waste, effluent and little paper boats away from their houses and villages – and therefore plumbers were also born.
The Egyptians claim to have invented stone masonry, but there are others who dispute that; the Mayans for one, and not to mention the Neolithic people who erected Stonehenge. They probably wouldn’t be best pleased that the Egyptians are taking all the glory. The Egyptians were very good at carving stone into blocks alright, no one is going to argue with that. Blocks they could do; nice square, regular blocks that made a good pyramid. But oblong blocks? Right angled blocks? Slim, thin blocks? Forget it mate. They were right stuffed when it came to that, but that didn’t stop them getting in people to make them when required and taking all the credit. Pfft. But, whatever the actual truth is, it is universally acknowledged amongst scholars, just for a quiet life really, that stone masonry, and therefor the stone mason, originated in Egypt.
With the advent of carpentry, or, more accurately, the re-discovery of carpentry (It is well known that woodhenges existed long before the stone ones came along and stole all their glory. Those poor early carpenters were put out of jobs and their craft was lost for many years as stone then bronze and then iron really rubbed their facers in it), the world was opened up as people started to build wooden boats. Previous attempts at boatbuilding had failed miserably as they were all made of stone and, obviously, just sunk as soon as they were launched. That’s if they even could be launched. Many of them just stubbornly sat there and refused to budge. Many of these unloved and abandoned boats were later repurposed by the Vikings as burial chambers, the remnants of which can still be seen today…
Once the floating boats arrived, professional tradespeople travelled far and wide, spreading their skills across the known world, and civilisation as we know it took off.
Whilst I was researching this post, my extensive researches, for they were very extensive, very extensive indeed, turned up an interesting little nugget of information. It was in the form of a diary extract from 1666, not long after the Great Fire Of London had destroyed much of the city. The extract appears to be from the musings of what we would now call ‘a nosey neighbour’:
Tueƒdaye, 30 minutes past the hour of three.
I was awoken from my ƒlumbers by an altercatione from without my abode. Upon peering ƒafely from behind my netted curtayne, I did ƒpy Mr. Merkyne, purveyor of pubyc wigges, asking in the ƒtreet as to the wherabouts of a fine carpenter. His ƒhop was badly damagyde during the Great Conflagration and is in dire need of repair. I knew of just ƒuch a person and ƒo I opened my window to addreƒƒ Mr. Merkyne directly thus:
‘Good daye Mr. Merkyne, how does this fine morning find you?’ I asked. He did not reply in kind and it was then I had cause to recall that he did have a hearing impairment. So I tried again, increasing the volume of my cry:
‘Good daye Mr. Merkyne, ƒir.’ At this he turned his head towards me.
‘Who ƒaid that? Is that you, young Maƒter Pryer? You must ƒpeak up for I can barely hear thee!’
‘It is indeed me, ƒir. I hear you are looking for a person of the wood trades and I know of ƒuch a perƒon who will be willing to aƒƒiƒt you in this matter.’
‘You do? Oh, this is moƒt fortunate’ elated Mr. Merkyne profuƒely. ‘How wonderful of you to aƒƒiƒt me. My houƒe was much damaged during the fire, and I fear it will collapse without immediate help forthwith. Many pubyc wigges have been lost already.’ Mr. Merkyne did hang his head moƒt ƒolemnly and my reƒolve to help him grew ƒtronger.
‘Fear not ƒir, for I have the means to contact young Dohit Yousiff, there is no one finer in the whole of London, or I dare ƒay, the whole of England.’
‘Who? I could not hear you, young Maƒter Pryer’, Mr. Merkyne strained his right ear, his good ear I am told, towards me.
I leant further from my window, fearing I may fall onto the ƒtreet below and into a particularly large pile of horse’s ƒhit. ‘Dohit… Yousiff’, I cried once more.
‘Do it myƒelf?’ he cried back, a look of bemusement did croƒƒ his features.
‘No, I said Dohit…’, but it was no good, for Mr. Merkyne has stopped liƒtening to me and was ƒtroking his beard in deep thought and conƒideration.
‘Do it myƒelf, eh? Why not indeed? For it ƒhall be much cheaper to do it myƒelf, and I ƒhall enjoy the learning of it, too.’ and with that his demeanour did change much for the better and he did ƒalute me and retire back into his abode.
I never did call young Dohit to tell him about Mr. Merkyne’s predicament, but I imagyne he is busyye enough anyway.”
What is interesting in the above diary extract is that it appears, quite accidentally mind, to document the very first incidence of what we now know as DIY, or, Do It Yourself. If it wasn’t for that young carpenter Dohit Yousiff, and the unfortunate, hard of hearing Mr. Merkyne, the world of home decorating would be a very different place indeed.
Now, I imagine that by now you are all wondering what in the name of Les Dawson’s heaving bosom this all has to do with Matthew Ross’s debut book, ‘Death Of A Painter‘, right?
Well, you see, DOAP (as it shall henceforth be referred to), has as its star one Mark Poynter, and Mr. Poynter, you see, patience dear reader, I’m getting there, you see, Mr. Poynter, that’s Mark Poynter by the way, not some other random Poynter you may have heard of or even know, and that’s not a typo either, it’s ‘Poynter’ not ‘Pointer’, just to poynt, sorry point, that out… where was I?
Oh yeah, Mark Poynter.
Yeah, so, Mark is a builder. In fact he’s what they call in the trade a ‘spark’ or ‘sparky’, that’s an electrician to you and me, and this book is set within the building trade, with all of the dust, ladders, plastering, cabling, retouching, snagging, plumbing you’d expect from such a setting. Oh, and some stuff you wouldn’t, such as… MURDER! *audible gasp emoji*
See? See now? Now you’re grateful for that potted history above, huh? Context, innit!
Yes that’s right, much to Mark’s distress, his chief painter and one of his closest friends, Tommy, is found dead on the job in the recently almost-fitted kitchen of the Wilkes family. As if that wasn’t inconvenient enough, the rozzers, in particular the mean spirited DCI Senia (pronounced ‘Sen Ya’ as he points out to Poynter early on), are rather convinced of his guilt and are determined to prove it too.
I’m going to come straight out of the trap here and tell you that DOAP is a fantastic book. This is Matthew’s debut and you really wouldn’t know it. It’s fast paced, full of charm and wit, and peppered with brilliant characters, and, being the first in a series featuring our hero Mark Poynter, nimbly sows the seeds for future instalments. Matthew was in the building trade since he was 17 and this is evident throughout lending his writing an air of authority but without bombarding us with lots of building speak and jargon. Pretty much all of us have been in contact with the building trades, and the people there-in, in some form or other and this makes many of the characters very relatable and believable.
I do have one issue with Mr. Ross though. It’s quite a big one, so please bear with me here whilst I take a deep breath in and prepare myself. I direct your reading orbs to the passage below:
“When Harpo smiled his face looked as if it was being devoured by wasps, jeez it was horrible. Clean shaven he was no lady killer but bearded he looked like a child killer. It was vile. He looked like he should be living rough out of a skip, less hipster, more dumpster. What is this fascination everyone has with beards? There’s a reason why they went out of fashion before, they should be consigned to history, things done in the 70s, and should never be seen again, like brynylon sweaters and home-done abortions.”
*spluttering face emoji* Looked like a ‘child killer’? ‘Living rough out of a skip’? ‘[…] consigned to histo….’ I can’t even finish typing that last sentence. Sir, this is pogonophobia pure and simple. Why I outta…. *shakes fist emoji* However, seeing as this book is told in the first person and is from Mark’s POV, not Matthew’s, I am prepared to let it lie (I just hope it lies on a bullet ant nest with a very angry hornet’s nest falling on top of it. That will teach it! Consigned indeed. Mmmm!)
But, blatant beard predjudice aside (seriously, ‘consigned to…’, I never thought I’d read the day *shakes head emoji*), DOAP is a fantastic romp. It is full of dark humour and builder’s wit, peppered with menace and a real sense of threat to our poor, beleaguered, painter cum amateur sleuth. He really does get himself up to the armpits in a particularly brown shade of overcoat, I can tell you. There is also a lot of heart in this book, particularly in Mark’s relationship with his late father, Tommy’s family, and his embryonic flourishings with his neighbour Perry. The supporting characters are equally superb, some are likeable – such as Disco, the aforementioned Perry, Uncle Bern – others, um, not so likeable. Matthew lays enough groundwork here to ensure that future instalments of Mark’s adventures will expand upon them all even further, and there is the unresolved issue of his brother too, but shhhhhh, I’m saying too much.
So, what is my take home message from all of this?
Buy the damned book, of course! Sheesh, do I have to spell these things out to you every time? Trust me, you’ll really enjoy it and will be clamouring, clamouring I tell you, for the next adventure. But where, I hear you cry, oh where do we buy this marvellous book?
Ha, have no fear Beardy Blog Fans, for you can purchase this wordy wonder at the dinky linklets provided below. If you ask me (and you were going to ask me right?), I recommend buying it direct from Red Dog Press themselves. Unless you have been on a round the world yachting trip with no TV, radio or carrier pigeon to hand, you cannot have failed to notice that we are currently in the middle of a global pandemic and as such independent publishers such as the Mighty Red Dog need YOUR support more than ever. And no, I am not being paid to say that (though a few vegan friendly Bourbons or a tube or three of Texas BBQ Pringles wouldn’t go amiss, ya know? *winky face emoji*)
RED DOG PRESS (paperback and hardback only)
or, if you really have to…
There, isn’t that lovely? Yes, yes it is. So, I shall leave you with the little bio about Matthew below. Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour just in case you don’t believe me that this book is ace.
Until next time.
Peace and Love
Matthew Ross was born and raised in the Medway Towns, England. He still lives in Kent with his Kiwi wife, his children and a very old cat.
He was immersed in the building industry from a very early age helping out on his father’s sites during school holidays before launching into his own career at 17. He’s worked on projects ranging from the smallest domestic repair to £billion+ infrastructure, and probably everything in between.
A lifelong comedy nerd, he ticked off a bucket-list ambition and tried his hand at stand-up comedy. Whilst being an experience probably best forgotten (for both him and audiences alike) it ignited a love for writing, leading to various commissions including for material broadcast on BBC Radio 4 comedy shows.
Matthew moved into the longer format of novel writing after graduating from the Faber Academy in London in 2017.
‘Death Of A Painter’ is his first novel and the first in a planned series of stories featuring Mark Poynter and his associates.
Matthew enjoys reading all manner of books – especially crime and mystery; 80s music; and travelling and can’t wait for the next trip to New Zealand to spend time with family and friends.