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Blast from the Past

Blast from the Past

by Ben Elton

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Ready to follow Nick Hornsby and Helen Fielding as the next big thing from Cool Britannia to hit America is Ben Elton. Already known to a wide public television audience as the funnyman behind Blackadder, The Young Ones, and The Thin Blue Line, Elton, author of Popcorn, lights up the literary sky with Blast from the Past.

Part noir


Ready to follow Nick Hornsby and Helen Fielding as the next big thing from Cool Britannia to hit America is Ben Elton. Already known to a wide public television audience as the funnyman behind Blackadder, The Young Ones, and The Thin Blue Line, Elton, author of Popcorn, lights up the literary sky with Blast from the Past.

Part noir thriller, part hilarious send-up of the politics of extremism, Blast from the Past is the new novel from English comedy phenomenon (stand-up, playwright, television writer, and author) Ben Elton--a name soon to be known in all circles once Joel Schumacher's film of his book Popcorn reaches the silver screen.

In the early 80s, when Polly was a seventeen-year-old ideological peace protestor and Jack was a U.S. Army captain stationed at England's Greenham Common, the two had a secret and very unlikely affair. No two people could have had more to argue about, save that they couldn't live without each other, yet one day Jack came to the conclusion that he loved soldiering more than Polly and sacrificed their love to be a career army man.

Now, sixteen years later, Polly is a lonely thirty-something social services employee and Jack is a four-star general who has returned to Britain to find her, his only true love. With only one night to resolve their differences, and a knife-wielding stalker lurking in the shadows, for everyone concerned this will be a night like no other.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
British stand-up comic, playwright and author Elton (Popcorn) brings a new, if unconvincing, twist to the term "sexual politics" in his fifth off-the-wall novel. Polly Slade is a stereotypical leftist activist, but, la Bridget Jones, she's also sadly single. When Polly was 17, she had a brief and improbable sub rosa love affair with American Captain Jack Kent, who was stationed at the airbase in Greenham, England where, in the '80s, there was a year-long demonstration against American militarism. Polly, radical protester-for-peace in the bloom of her punkish pulchritude, is shortly abandoned by the ambitious Jack, whose pursuit of army life cannot be derailed. Now 16 years have passed and Jack has risen in the U.S. ranks, in line to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Polly's career hasn't been so steady, as she passed through anarchist, feminist and labor support groups. She's dated both politically correct and lying married men. But now she's got a stalker, Peter (whom she nicknames "The Bug"), a former client at the Office of Equal Opportunity where she works. When Jack comes to London and looks up Polly, whom he's never stopped loving, his quest coincides with Peter's escalating harassment. The collision of Polly's loneliness and nostalgia, Jack's egomaniacal personality and "The Bug's" psychosis, which Elton sets up deftly enough, doesn't quite gel. Kent, part Manchurian candidate, part Rambo and overall a blatant symbol of U.S. political corruption, doesn't make a credible figure, especially when his enduring passion for Polly turns deadly. Elton's condescending asides about Polly's ultra-leftie politics render his heroine ridiculous. While the combination of U.S. and British politics, thematically linked with sexual obsession and blood-thirsty ambition, is a promising melange, these characters haven't the mettle to engage most readers in their violent and melodramatic love games. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Elton's new novel is a black-humor take on the stalker-thriller genre. Sixteen years before this novel begins, an unlikely pair have a passionate affair in the confines of England's Greenham Common. He was an up-and-coming U.S. military man, and she--known at the time as Sacred Cycle of the Womb and Moon--was a peace protester. Now Gen. Jack Kent is up for promotion as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and she, now simply Polly Slade, is a social worker in England. One of her clients, known as "The Bug," is stalking her, and when Kent shows up on her doorstep one morning, it seems that Polly is up against a pride of men who need her. Those expecting social commentary from Elton (author of the popular British TV series Blackadder) will not be disappointed; the 16-year gap allows him to skewer some of the less savory political elements of the Eighties, including Reagan and Thatcher. Those looking for a John Sandford thriller, however, might find that the author's wit dilutes the frightfulness of the stalkings. Elton's current popularity, plus an upcoming movie version of his earlier novel, Popcorn, should make this a popular book with patrons of most public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/99.]--Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
New Woman
Elton's on top form with this gripping black comedy.
A lively thriller of sexual politics and morality.
Outrageously entertaining.
Kirkus Reviews
Standup comic, playwright, and novelist Elton (Popcorn, 1997) comes up with too little that's new to avoid the soporific in this account of lost love rekindled—to no good—among the back alleys of modern London. Polly Slade is one of those left-wing busybodies who can never be persuaded to leave bad enough alone. A social worker at the Office of Equal Opportunity, she evaluates discrimination cases all day long and presses the suits of those who've been unfairly passed over for housing or promotion. And what thanks does she get for her trouble? Precious little, unless you count the deranged stalker who fell in love with her and now leaves obscene messages in her voice-mail every night. It's understandable, then, that Polly is less than thrilled to hear her phone ring one evening near midnight, though it turns out—for once—that her fears were mislaid: The caller isn't Peter (her stalker) but Jack Kent, an old flame from the early 1980s. Jack was a US Army captain, then based at Greenham Common, and Polly was living in the lesbian commune formed nearby to protest NATO's nuclear arsenal. They made an odd pair in those days, but managed to fall in love despite it. Eventually, however, Jack abruptly broke things off, fearful that an association with a declared leftist would blight his career. Now, he's risen to the very top and, as a general, needn't worry about a thing. So he calls Polly to rekindle the flame. Can he? Before that question can be answered, he finds himself enmeshed in a weird threesome with Polly and Peter (who by now is even more demented and violent). Maybe Jack can save Polly from more than loneliness. Or maybe he can make a bad situation evenworse. An anti-fairy tale sadly lacking the wit or originality to lift it past the middle grade.

From the Publisher
Praise from the UK for Blast from the Past:

"The action is tight and well-plotted, the dialogue is punchy, and the whole thing rolls along so nicely."
The Guardian

"Ben Elton's in top form with this gripping black comedy—a sure-fire hit."
New Woman

"A lively thriller of sexual politics and morality. Elton's best book yet."

"Blast from the Past is Elton at his most outrageously entertaining."

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

It was 2:15 in the morning when the telephone rang. Polly woke instantly. Her eyes were wide and her body tense before the phone had completed so much as a single ring. And as she woke, in the tiny moment between sleep and consciousness, before she was even aware of the telephone's bell, she felt scared. It was not the phone that jolted Polly so completely from her dreams, but fear.

And who could argue with the reasoning powers of Polly's subconscious self? Of course she was scared. After all, when the phone rings at 2:15 in the morning it's unlikely to be heralding something pleasant. What chance is there of its being good news? None. Only someone bad would ring at such an hour. Or someone good with bad news.

That telephone was sounding a warning bell. Something, somewhere, was wrong. So much was obvious. Particularly to a woman who lived alone, and Polly lived alone.

Of course it might be no more wrong than a wrong number. Something bad, but bad for someone else, something that would touch Polly's life only for a moment, utterly infuriate her, and then be gone.

"Got the Charlie?"

"There's no Charlie at this number."

"Don't bullshit me, arsehole."

"What number are you trying to call? This is three, four, zero, one . . ."

"Three, four, zero? I'm awfully sorry. I think I've dialed the wrong number."

That would be a good result. A wrong number would be the best possible result. To find yourself returning to bed furiously muttering, "Stupid bastard," while trying to pretend to yourself that you haven't actually woken up; that would be a good result. Polly hoped the warning bell was meant for someone else.

If yourphone rings at 2:15 a.m. you'd better hope that too. Because if someone actually wants you you're in trouble.

If it's your mother she's going to tell you your dad died.

If it's some much-missed ex-lover who you'd been hoping would get back in contact he'll be calling drunkenly to inform you that he's just been diagnosed positive and that perhaps you'd better have things checked out.

The only time that bell might ring for something good is if you were actually expecting some news, news so important it might come at any time. If you have a relative in the throes of a difficult pregnancy, for instance, or a friend who's on the verge of being released from a foreign hostage situation. Then a person might leap from bed thinking, "At last! They've induced it!" or, "God bless the Foreign Office. He's free!" On the other hand, maybe the mother and baby didn't make it. Maybe the hostage got shot.

There is no doubt about it that under almost all normal circumstances a call in the middle of the night had to be bad. If not bad, at least weird, and, in a way, weird is worse. This is the reason why, when the phone rang in Polly's little attic flat at 2:15 a.m. and wrenched her from the womb of sleep, she felt scared.

Strange to be scared of a phone. Even if it's ringing. What can a ringing phone do to you? Leap up and bash you with its receiver? Strangle you with its cord? Nothing. Just ring, that's all.

Until you answer it.

Then, of course, it might ask you in a low growl if you're wearing any knickers. If you like them big and hard. If you've been a very naughty girl. Or it might say . . .

"I know where you live."

That was how it had all begun before.

"I'm watching you right now," the phone had hissed. "Standing there in only your nightdress. I'm going to tear it off you and make you pay for all the hurt you've done to me."

At the time Polly's friends had assured her that the man was lying. He had not been watching her. Pervert callers phone at random. They don't know where their victims live.

"He knew I was wearing my nightie," Polly had said. "He got that right. How did he know that? How did he know I was wearing my nightie?"

"It was the middle of the night, for heaven's sake!" her friends replied. "Got to be a pretty good chance you were wearing a nightie, hasn't there? Even a fool of a pervert could work that one out. He doesn't know where you live."

But Polly's friends had been wrong. The caller did know where Polly lived. He knew a lot about her because he was not a random pervert at all, but a most specific pervert. A stalker. That first call had been the start of a campaign of intimidation that had transformed Polly's life into a living hell. A hell from which the law had been unable to offer any protection.

"Our hands are tied, Ms. Slade. There's nothing actually illegal about making phone calls, writing letters, or ringing people's doorbells."

"Terrific," said Polly. "So I'll get back to you when I've been raped and murdered, then, shall I?"

The police assured her that it hardly ever came to that.

Meet the Author

Ben Elton is the author of four previous novels, Stark, Gridlock, The Other Eden, and Popcorn. He lives with his wife in London.

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