Michael Moorcock at his unbeatable best: King of the City is a thunderous 400-odd page salvo that is another great London novel as well as a scarifying picture of excess and corruption, seen through the eyes of sleazy photographer Denny Dover. For those who relished Moorcock's massive (and massively entertaining) novel Mother London and enjoyed his epic literary novel Gloriana, King of the City will be manna from Heaven.
Since the demise of Princess Di brought about a change in the English soul, the new thinking has kicked tabloid paparazzi photographers like Denny out of work. He fetches up in the benighted wastes of Skerring on the south coast of England, only to sink into dreams of his days as a substance-abusing, sexually omnivorous rock star and existential maverick. Denny is galvanised when his childhood friend, massively wealthy magnate John Barbican-Begg, proves that rumours of his death are greatly exaggerated. Denny has to deal with both his collusion in Begg's avaricious ambitions and--far worse--the apparent seduction of his beautiful cousin Rosie. Comparisons with Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities will be thrown up but although this shares the same glittering surface (and is couched in language that is similarly elegant, demotic and malignantly witty), Moorcock essentially concentrates on four characters rather than the more scattershot approach of Wolfe. This is a shame, as Moorcock could have fleshed out some of the minor characters. No matter: for those who lived through the 1960s, this will be the definitive document. For those too young to remember it, a trip in this particular time machine will plunge them into a dizzying and phantasmagoric world in which anything goes.
The treatment of modern Britain is equally vivid, etched with a razor-sharp scalpel. The mixture of fictional and real-life characters is brought off with the kind of panache we have come to expect from Moorcock and the more serious issues he takes on (imperialism, greed, personal integrity) are perfectly integrated into the Dickensian canvas. But, finally, it is the language that will soon have people quoting wholesale from the book:
The one big lesson American consumerism taught Europe is how to strip your own psychic assets. How to sell your self-respect in return for a handout and the chance of a class-action court case. How to squeeze a handsome buck out of a murdered ancestor, maximise the profit on your birthright ... now we're all plodding through the same toxic haze of urine, grease, carbon monoxide and degenerated plastic that has eaten away the city's deregulated gilt and left us coughing up crap. --Barry Forshaw