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Moore, Toby - 'Death by Chocolate'
Paperback: 240 pages (Nov. 2006) Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd ISBN: 0141016361

We have seen the future, and it's a scary place. In DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, being fat in most States of America is now a crime, and Health Enforcement in New York enforce weight licences and track down humonsters for forced re-education. Brown (chocolate's street name) is only available from smugglers and illicit dealers. Illicit eateasy's are hidden all over town, serving burgers, fries and other illegal substances. The boring, day to day existence of Health Enforcement Officers Devlin and Strong is disrupted in a big way when Cupid Frish, pulled over just days before for a random weight check, is found, dead, coated in a brown bikini and dumped in an alley.

It doesn't take too long to find that Frish has some very questionable connections with the Head of Health Enforcement as well as Bishop Instructor Heston Gotfelt of the Fit for Christ Church a conglomerate Corporation, church, fitness institution and political power-base. It seems that Frish has been strangled, coated with a bizarre brown bikini and dumped, but when her body goes missing from the morgue, her apartment is trashed and she turns out to have been a lot more than just a murder victim, Devlin and Strong get themselves into a heap of trouble overstepping the role of Health Enforcement Officials.

There's a lot of playing around with perceptions and everyday scenarios in DEATH BY CHOCOLATE. Firstly there's a society totally and utterly obsessed with food and weight - trying to control every aspect of citizens lives with a mixture of religious zeal, legal control and financial incentives. There is corporate power behind the political throne, making a lot of money from controlling people's behaviours. There is massive weather pattern shifting with cold winds and flurries of snow in summer New York. There is also a switching of traditional roles with Devlin, a man, trying to balance work and being a single parent to a rebellious teenage girl and Strong, a female, being a hard drinking, hard playing maverick.

There's some very clever switching around of some of the methods used in society to control anti-social behaviour, for example, illegal drug selling and use. The comparisons between speakeasys and eateasys is pretty obvious, and it's a illustrative part of Moore's future world. In places though, the comparisons get a bit heavy-handed and DEATH BY CHOCOLATE veers towards self-involved. The mystery of Frish and what happened to her gets somewhat lost amongst the agonising of Devlin - is his daughter really using Brown? Will she end up in rehab? Will he ever get a girlfriend? The ramblings, rantings and manipulations of Gotfelt and the Church are amusing and quite telling in places, but again, it all ends up getting a bit too carried away in its own cleverness. The way that all the components of religion, and bureaucracy can be switched to be for or against any subject, item, passion (illicit or legal) starts to get drawn out and whilst many of those comparisons are clever, it's all just a bit too much because the central story starts to suffer and lose focus.

DEATH BY CHOCOLATE is amusing, it's clever and if you can forgive it trying to hit you across the head with the comparisons, it's a good light-hearted read for somebody who is looking for a something a bit on the silly side. Two warnings though, fat is printed as f*t, cuteness can be incredibly trying sometimes, and most importantly, you couldn't possibly read DEATH BY CHOCOLATE and not have uncontrollable cravings for a large box of chocolates, a very strong full fat cappuccino and a pizza with everything.

Karen Chisholm, Australia
March 2007

last updated 1/03/2007 20:23