When I saw the fabulous cover design of Briefs Encountered on Twitter, I knew that I had to read the book. I’d never read a Julian Clary novel before, but the premise, two separate but interconnected stories, one set during the 1920s and involving Noël Coward, the other about the present day actor Richard Stent, sounded too interesting to refuse. Moreover, Clary has set both parts of his book in his own house near Ashford, and since I work at Waterstones Tenterden, the novel has a particularly local appeal.
I was initially rather put off by the inclusion of Clary himself and Paul O’Grady as characters; it struck me as gimmicky and threatened to stop my reading Briefs Encountered altogether. But I’m glad I persisted, because this really is a fantastic novel. I’ve always enjoyed books which alternate between different perspectives (Sarah Rayner does it excellently in One Moment, One Morning and The Two Week Wait), and Clary not only succeeds very well in telling a dual narrative, he also manages to make his characters based on real people as believable as his utterly fictitious ones.
As I work in a haunted shop, I was particularly intrigued by the ghostly occurrences in Briefs Encountered, and as with the novel’s crazy relationships and crazier yet women, I feared that Clary’s writing about paranormal activity would be hammier than Nigella eating a bacon sandwich in a Christmas jumper. But it is all written so deftly and so tastefully that I have found myself ordering Clary’s backlist at work. If his previous novels are as good as this one, then I can’t wait to read them, particularly if he decides to make a cameo appearance.