You could never accuse Philip Hensher, who has many estimable qualities, of lacking a writer’s obligatory splinter of ice in the heart. His fiction has been consistently characterised by sudden, contained explosions of evil. In Kitchen Venom, a recent widower is talking to a handsome Italian rent boy whom he has been regularly seeing. The rent boy suggests they move their relationship to a less transactional footing. Then, all at once, ‘he turned and he killed Giacomo’. Even the relatively cuddly The Northern Clemency sees Tim sent to Australia to confront Sandra, who he feels had many years before distorted his view of the fairer sex with a tantalising flash of her teenage torso. Not content with having Sandra expel Tim from her apartment at knife-point, Hensher feeds him to a shark.
There is a handsome Italian in King of the Badgers, too. Mauro, however, is more of a courtesan than a rent boy. There is also a violent death, as well as two highly undignified ones. Evil is present from the outset in its most publicly recognisable form: the