A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon Jonathan Cape, HK$195 With his first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon won critical acclaim, several prizes and legions of fans. With such high expectations, a second novel was bound to be a tough act, but with A Spot of Bother, Haddon seems to have decided to bow out of any sort of contest, even with himself. The title refers to a patch discovered by newly retired George Hall on his thigh. The doctor diagnoses eczema. But George decides he's dying and from then on acts erratically, much to the consternation of his wife, Jean, who is feeling alternately happy and guilty about having an affair with one of George's ex-colleagues. Their daughter, Katie, announces early on her desire to marry a second time - the groom in question, Ray, is regarded as wholly unsuitable by her parents and gay brother Jamie, who then expend considerable energy debating whether they should stop her and how. They finally settle on a game plan: 'to treat her like an adult'. Meanwhile, Jamie's boyfriend, Tony, is sulking because Jamie is pussyfooting around the issue of taking Tony to his sister's wedding. When he finally decides, 'all that bollocks about provincial bigotry ... and it didn't matter if his father tied himself in knots over bedroom arrangements', Tony decides to call the relationship off anyway. The charmingly idiosyncratic tone of Christopher, the autistic narrator of Curious Incident, kept the pages zipping along. With its multiple-voice narrative, A Spot of Bother becomes a lumpy tale of woe that should keep the reader engaged - but fails to. The voices are distinct, yet unremarkable, except for George's observations as he routinely works his way out of panic attacks. Musing on Katie's impending wedding: 'No. He had got everything back to front. It was not the job of the bride's father to like his prospective son-in-law (he could feel sanity returning even as he formed the thought). That was the job of the best man.' The pages are easy to read, dry witticisms abound and Haddon does humour well. However, the individual parts never stack up to a satisfying whole. The book is mired in 'family-drama' terrain, the pleasantly pointless narrative focused on daily problems. Katie isn't sure whether she loves Ray or likes him for the sense of security he provides her and her son. Ray wonders if Katie likes him for his house. Haddon never takes us to the point where we feel for these dilemmas. Even George - overanxious, depressed, going senile? - engenders little empathy. Towards the end, Haddon attempts to liven up the book with a bit of British-style bawdy humour, straight out of Bridget Jones's Diary, as George, delivering his speech at Katie's wedding, jumps over table tops and lunges for his wife's paramour. The book seems lost in time. People desperately attempting to contact one another never think to use a mobile phone. And a gay relationship still acts as a magnet for scandal-mongers in small-town England. Fans of Haddon's inventive prose and crisp narrative will have to wait for his next book.