Recently divorced actor Stephen C. McQueen (no relation, unfortunately) seems to have a knack for bad luck. But a failed marriage, a stalled career, a judgmental ex-wife, a distant daughter, a horrid little studio apartment in the far reaches of the London suburbs-all these pathetic elements seem to pale in the chiseled face of his newest tormentor: the Twelfth Sexiest Man in the World, Josh Harper. Josh is the star of Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know, a biographical play about Lord Byron-and Stephen is his understudy. Not only is Josh fantastically, infuriatingly good-looking, internationally renowned, and remarkably talented, he's also frustratingly healthy. No matter how many all-night booze-and-coke benders Josh goes on, he always shows up at the stage door for his call like clockwork. Stephen doubts he'll ever get his chance to slip on the puffy shirt and tight breeches of Byron and tread the boards in the role that would certainly be the break he's always waited for. And just when Stephen's sure he couldn't resent Josh more, he meets Josh's witty, restless American wife, Nora . . . and discovers he likes her a little too much.
Nicholls's second novel (after A Question of Attraction) focuses on Stephen C. McQueen, a 32-year-old actor forlornly hoping for his big break. With an 11-year career whose sole highlight has been playing a corpse, Stephen's latest gig, understudying Josh Harper (one of London's hottest stars) in a West End play, actually has promise. If only Josh would miss a performance (say, break a leg, literally), Stephen would secure the lead, and in turn, the approval of his critical ex-wife, Alison, and his precocious seven-year-old daughter, Sophie. But while Josh is many things (self-absorbed, cruel), he's never sick, and just as Stephen's abhorrence for the haughty superstar reaches its crescendo (he's asked to waiter at Josh's birthday bash) Stephen meets Nora, Josh's acerbic and neglected bride, and later stumbles upon Josh mid-tryst with a costar. Suddenly Stephen's able to make a dealAhis silence in exchange for the starring role. Of course, the rules of light romantic comedy prevail: Stephen falls in love with Nora and realizes that he can't lie to make his own career. Nicholls's background as a screenwriter is evident, and while clever, his latest novel is still saccharinely predictable, best paired with sand and surf. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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January 29, 2007
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Excerpt from The Understudy by David Nicholls
Act One H Waiting to Go On —That’s not real life, lad. That’s just pretending. —But “real life” is how well you pretend, isn’t it? You. Me. Everybody in the world . . . Jack RosenthalReady When You Are, Mr. McGill Sunset Boulevard H Summers and Snow ep.3 draft 4 CHIEF INSPECTOR GARRETT (CONT.) . . . or I’ll have you back directing traffic faster than you can say disciplinary action. INSPECTOR SUMMERS But he’s just toying with us, sir, like a cat with a— CHIEF INSPECTOR GARRETT I repeat— Don’t. Make It. Personal. I want a result, and I want it yesterday, or you’re off this case, Summers. (SNOW goes to speak) I mean it. Now get out of here—the both of you. INT. MORTUARY. DAY BOB “BONES” THOMPSON, the forensic pathologist, sickly complexion, ghoulish sense of humor, stands over the seminaked body of a YOUNG MAN, early thirties, his bloated body lying cold and dead on the mortuary slab, in the early stages of decomposition—CONSTABLE SNOW is clutching a handkerchief to her mouth. INSPECTOR SUMMERS So—fill me in, Thompson. How long d’you think he’s been dead for? THOMPSON Hard to say. From the stink on him, I think it’s fair to say he’s not the freshest fish on the slab . . . INSPECTOR SUMMERS (not smiling) Clock’s ticking, Bones . . . THOMPSON Okay, well, judging from the decay, the bloating and the skin discoloration, I’d say . . . he’s been in the water a week or so, give or take a day. Initial examination suggests strangulation. By the ligature marks round the neck, I’d say the killer used a thick, coarse rope, or a chain maybe . . . DI SUMMERS A chain? Christ, the poor bastard . . . CONSTABLE SNOW Who found the body? (SUMMERS shoots her a look—“I ask the questions round here . . .”) THOMPSON Some old dear out walking the dog. Nice lady, eighty-two years old. I think it’s safe to assume you should be looking elsewhere for your serial ki— “Hang on a second . . . Nope—nope, sorry, everyone, we’re going to have to stop.” “Why, what’s up?” snapped Detective Inspector Summers. “We’ve got flaring.” “On the lens?” “Dead guy’s nostrils. You can see him breathing. We’re going to have to go again.” “Oh, for crying out loud . . .” “Sorry! Sorry, sorry, everyone,” said the DEADYOUNGMAN, sitting up and folding his arms self-consciously across his blue-painted chest. While the crew reset, the director, a long-faced, troubled man with an unconvincing baseball cap pushed far back on a reflective forehead, dragged both hands down his face and sighed. Hauling himself from his canvas chair, he strode over to the DEADYOUNGMAN and knelt matily next to the mortuary slab. “Right, so, Lazarus, tell me—is there a problem?” “No, Chris, it’s all good for me . . .” “Because—how can I say this—at present, you’re doing a little too much.” “Yeah, sorry about that.” The director peered at his watch, and rubbed the red indentations left by his baseball cap. “Because it’s getting on for two-thirty and . . . what’s your name, again?” &a