Kill Your Friends by John Niven (Shane's book 19, 2009)

'Write about what you know' is the advice routinely given to first-time novelists and that's what John Niven has done here. Like his protagonist, Steven Stelfox, Niven was an A&R man during the Britpop years and draws on his experience to for this satire of music industry shallowness, cynicism and greed.

[amtap book:isbn=0099516675]

The story follows Stelfox through 1997 as he visits Cannes, Miami and Glastonbury on his quest for a hit record. Unfortunately all he has to work with are a Spice Girls-clone girlband and a drum 'n' bass artist called Rage, a thinly-disguised Goldie.

To underline how nasty the music business is Niven makes Stelfox racist, sexist, homophobic and misanthropic in the extreme. His interest in music is purely financial - he has a drugs and prostitute habit to support, after all - and, lacking critical judgment, he has to rely on guesswork if he's to find a hit. Oh, and halfway through the book he turns, somewhat unconvincingly, into a psychopathic murderer.

It's like South Park meets American Psycho without the wit or intellect of either. Stelfox is barely even a two-dimensional character and the best Niven can do to take us inside his head is to say it's like a TV control room with a series of screens showing ultra-violence and hardcore porn. It's desperately unimaginative. Niven might argue that Stelfox is two-dimensional and desperately unimaginative, which may be true but it's still the author's job to make him interesting and he's failed utterly here.

Worse is the fact that Niven has nothing to say. The music industry is shallow and cynical? Anyone who's tuned in to an episode of X Factor could tell you that. Otherwise, all Niven has to offer are the observations that traffic in London is often bad and all the pretty women seem to come out in sunny weather. In comparison, Nick Hornby is a giant of cultural analysis.

In Niven's defence he can craft very funny insults, which gives Stelfox's opinions some humourous zing. But it feels overdone and palls after 100 pages or so.

You can find better things to do with your time.