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Monotone Masquerade

by George Veck

Rating: *****

Conniving Wendy Billings gives a whole new layer of North Wales meaning to the syndrome of Munchausen by proxy as, when not half-sloshed or nursing a killer hangover, she can be found dragging her fifteen-year-old son, Justin, to every benefits office within a three-mile radius of their Minffordd home to cheat the system by pretending Justin is so far along the autistic spectrum as to be “chronically disabled”  

As Justin nears his sixteenth birthday, he begins to fight against Wendy’s coercion and control, moving out for, what he thinks will be a brief stay at the Porth y Graig care home before he finds his feet. But has Justin unknowingly swapped one life of intimidation and abuse for another?...

This is the fourth little novel from Veck that I’ve read* and it’s back to the outskirts of Bangor for more grifters and their ghastly shenanigans. Although I know what I’m getting into with a Veck narrative, there is always a sharp edge of unpredictability, and never more so than in Monotone Masquerade.

Veck writes what he knows, and in this story, there is a strong subjective sense of simmering anger, especially in the beginning. It swells to a barely contained rage as Justin is hawked around various agencies by his crooked mother, dutifully playing the role that Wendy demands of him.

A high degree of obvious subjectivity can cloud or derail a narrative and, also, exclude a reader from fully engaging, but given the suffocating, intense nature of Veck’s stories, this sub-textual anger adds a powerful layer to an already pretty uncomfortable opener.

Despite most of Veck’s characters inhabiting the same shabby, drug-soaked world, literally and figuratively, it’s a testament to his writing that each of them is individual, convincing, and well-rounded while credibly conforming to type.

Wendy is simply awful and although not present for a large part of the novel, makes a horribly strong impact. She’s violent, morally bankrupt, and maternally redundant as she degrades and humiliates Justin, qualities which ensure Wendy’s scene with PIPS assessor, Sonia is a delicious piece of karma. Nonetheless, her treatment of Greg, Justin’s father, is callous and leads to a life-changing twist early on in the story.

However, some of this is insignificant when Justin moves into Porth y Graig and meets fifteen-year-old Darcy. There is certainly stiff competition from Veck’s previous works but, personally, she is the most vicious, vindictive, and emotionally manipulative character he has created. She oozes with menace, completely devoid of empathy or compassion and utterly feral.  

Although a victim of circumstance, there is a fundamental evil lurking within Darcy, and with sickening foreshadowing, the reader fervently wishes that vulnerable Justin had never met her from their first interaction. He’s on the cusp of breaking the cycle and making a good, honest life for himself. When he’s refereeing, the prose sparkles with his new-found spirit and opportunity.

Indeed, Monotone Masquerade provides more hope than Veck’s other stories, although for most characters, it’s brief. The result for Owen Jones, another Porth y Graig resident who tangles with Darcy, is profoundly sad. Jenson appears to be a peripheral character but comes into prominence with an intriguing and poignant trajectory that works incredibly well and is quite different from a normal Veck character conclusion.

There is also a side plot that connects with Darcy and Co., involving dentist Lionel and his pill-popping, depressed wife, Vivienne. Veck nicely signposts several issues with the pair but, even so, the speed with which everything unravels into carnage is swift, and brutal.

Once again, Veck offers an authentic, gritty, and gripping slice of North Wales’s societal underbelly. Monotone Masquerade is a savage read, swinging between painfully funny observations and painfully tragic consequences that are all too real—highly recommended.   


*Click here for my review of Ogwen Blues.

*Click here for my review of Spurious Scrapper.

*Click here for my review of One Visit.

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