ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Grove Press, 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.
Who's Who in Hell, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Fortune's Bastard, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2004, published as East of Nowhere, Atlantic Books (London, England), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert Chalmers is a British novelist whose fiction provides witty, sharp-edged humor. His first novel, Who's Who in Hell, revolves around Daniel Linnell, an obituarist for a highly respected London newspaper. Daniel's enthusiasm for his job is great, and he pores over newspaper articles looking for telling details on his subjects. He is especially interested in prominent people with lurid pasts, and to amuse himself, he writes unpublishable versions of their obituaries. He calls his collection Who's Who in Hell. Daniel falls in love with Laura, an adventurous American. He sells his book of mocking obituaries and uses the advance money to travel with Laura to her hometown, where he meets—and shocks—her parents.
Who's Who in Hell earned Chalmers comparisons to Nick Hornby, a best-selling British writer. Both authors can "tell a hip, passionate love story without a shred of sentimentality," according to Joanne Wilkinson in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly reviewer also noted a parallel to Hornby's work in this story of a "feckless man who has reached the fateful dividing point between the slacker lifestyle of the 20s and the bourgeois comforts that beckon in the 30s." The book is both dark and humorous, according to numerous reviewers, and a Kirkus Reviews contributor called it "a funny and exceptionally well-wrought romance that starts in disaster, ends in tragedy, and never loses sight of the manic and surreal in life." Chalmers himself worked as an obituarist at one time, and Benji Wilson in Spectator noted that "all these imaginary obits are very well done."
Chalmer's next book was published in the United States as Fortune's Bastard, and in England as East of Nowhere. It's also set in the newspaper world, being the story of Edward Miller, a wealthy, powerful editor whose life spirals out of control after he is caught in embarrassing circumstances with his personal assistant. Miller's wife leaves him, and he acts out a self-destructive scene at a dinner which is captured on film by a rival tabloid. With his life crumbling around him, Edward shaves his head and tries to run away, taking a job as an instructor in Barcelona. Eventually, he ends up living with a circus freakshow. Because the swift-paced story "has few pauses and no chapter breaks, the reader will careen along on an electrifying and hilarious ride," stated Barbara Love in Library Journal. Rachel Cooke concluded in the London Observer that Chalmers wrote "a good book and a great read; you turn the pages with genuine and steadily mounting amazement."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, September, 2002, review of Who's Who in Hell, pp. 156-157.
Booklist, August, 2002, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Who's Who in Hell, p. 1917; September 1, 2004, review of Fortune's Bastard, p. 59.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of Who's Who in Hell, p. 899; August 1, 2004, review of Fortune's Bastard, p. 702.
Library Journal, September 15, 2004, review of Fortune's Bastard, p. 47.
Publishers Weekly, July 15, 2002, review of Who's Who in Hell, p. 54; August 9, 2004, review of Fortune's Bastard, p. 231.
Spectator, April 13, 2002, Benji Wilson, review of Who's Who in Hell, p. 56.
Guardian Unlimited, http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (October 24, 2004), Rachel Cooke, review of East of Nowhere.
Telegraph Online, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ (October 24, 2004), Toby Clements, review of East of Nowhere.