The ASBO Show by Tony Saint Serpent's Tail, HK$173 Few novels can have been successfully crafted from legislation, and for the first page or so, Tony Saint's third seems no exception. Taking its title from Tony Blair's attempt to curb youth crime - Asbo stands for anti-social behaviour order - the story begins unpromisingly with two council workers driving towards a grim and anonymous housing estate in a grim and anonymous British city. Roger Merrion is disillusioned, middle-aged, a husband, father and recently bereaved son (his father died a few days earlier). He's accompanied by Spence, whose black market dealings double his salary. Their mission is to serve an Asbo on a member of one of the least attractive families in Britain: the Molloys. At this point, things begin to swing. Saint, who is also a screen-writer, proves to have quite a way with dialogue, dank atmospheres and unexpected images. As the men pass one flat, they notice a bathtub planted vertically in the garden space. 'The Dadaist tendencies of the local yobs were starting to achieve full expression,' Roger notes. Unsurprisingly, the attempt to restrain the Molloys (each with a 'glazed, almost cross-eyed look in their eyes') backfires spectacularly: having served the Asbo, Spence and Roger are set on and barely escape with their lives. Driving away, neither man seems impressed with the latest government initiative: 'Have you ever seen anything so f****ing ... illiberal?' Spence asks, referring to the Asbo. Here, in essence, are the twin prongs of Saint's enjoyable and funny, if rather unsubtle, satire. On one side, there's a British youth culture grown violent, uncivilised and increasingly out of control. Indeed, in some areas, an Asbo is brandished like a badge of dishonour. On the other is a government that's not only failing to solve the problem, but is in danger of exacerbating it. Having promised to be 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime', Blair seems to have become stuck in the first half of his mission statement, and no nearer to approaching the second. After this initial scene-setting, The ASBO Show takes off in odd, but rewarding plot directions. Roger is sent to investigate the notorious Composer's estate - home to families who make the Molloys seem like the Brady Bunch. For reasons that lurk in the darkest recesses of his soul, Roger finds himself fascinated by the violent behaviour that is a nightly occurrence there. Bewitched to the point of obsession, he leaves his family, moves to a condemned block of flats with a clear view of the estate and begins a lonely vigil. One day, Roger invites Spence along to watch the spectacle. Similarly captivated, Spence sees the parade of criminal intent as a potential goldmine and invents the titular 'ASBO Show'. Convinced there's an audience willing to pay top dollar to see local Chavs beat the hell out of one another, Spence renovates Roger's living room, lays on transport and refreshment and charges for the privilege. What began as Roger's personal escape from reality, grief and responsibility rapidly transforms itself into a live-action reality game show - with added voyeurism and extreme violence. The crowds flood in, stupefied by the degradation on show. Everything descends into chaos from this moment on, as the main characters drown in a cesspool of drink, drugs, brutality, paedophilia and double-crosses. The ASBO Show is full-on, no-holds-barred stuff. But what the story lacks in subtlety (few characters transcend caricature, save for Roger himself), it more than makes up for in readability and sheer comic verve. Saint's real targets are fundamental human flaws - greed, selfishness and all-round venality - and contemporary issues: the erosion of freedoms and independence, whether through the media, commerce, government or a more general loss of social and spiritual values. He has great fun, for instance, with PoundBlaster UK, a company that sells products high-in-calories to people low-in-IQ. The ASBO Show is SatireBlast Literature - loud, vulgar and entertaining, but with a bitter aftertaste. It's social comedy for our times: state-of-the-nation satire satirising a nation in a state.