Past Mortem by Ben Elton Bantam Press $188 Edward Newson is a rising star at New Scotland Yard. He's the youngest detective inspector in the history of the great British crime fighting institution, he's witty and he's intuitive; unfortunately, he's also very short, blessed with a shock of bright ginger hair, and filled with neuroses about his infatuation with his offsider, the beautiful Detective Sergeant Natasha Wilkie. He's also been put in charge of finding who was behind the bloody murder of Adam Bishop, a 55-year-old father of six for whose loss it seems few tears, save those of joy, will be shed. His inquiries lead him to a number of other gruesome murders committed by an efficient and cruel serial killer. In the meantime, perhaps to distract himself from his obsession with the oh-so-desirable-but-going-out-with-a-complete-pig Natasha, Newson uses the Friends United website to search for a girl he went out with for one glorious week when he was 14. He finds many of his classmates are looking back at their school days - reminiscing and venting old anger at the mistreatment, perceived and real, they received from their peers. It doesn't take much time for this virtual world to intrude on Newson's investigation. Before long he's reignited a two-decade-old rivalry, with results that are sometimes funny, sometimes sad and sometimes worthy of an under-the-counter German porn film. And all the while, the killer is going about his ghastly trade and Newson's past and present are creeping inexorably towards each other, with tragic results. Lead character Newson is likeable enough and he serves as a good outlet for Elton's social commentary and humour. However, he does, from the God-like perspective of the reader, seem to be a little slow on the uptake. It's fairly obvious who the murderer is even when there is still a fair whack of the book remaining to be got through, and it is perhaps a credit to Elton that he keeps the interest of the reader right up to the final pages. The plot is intriguing and as always Elton is sending a wider message with his writing. This book explores the evils and impact of bullying. And while it is a fairly heavy topic, Elton's characters work their way through this social ill in an entertaining fashion. The only other gripe is that in some sections he does tend to go on, not overly, but the change from his light, breezy style is noticeable. Apart from that, if you're looking for a good, minimal impact Christmas or MTR read, you could do a lot worse than this.