JOHN PRESTON'S THIRD foray into comic fiction, set in the Seventies, tells the story of Edmund Crowe, aged twenty-one, 'accountant, virgin, large-bottomed man of unusual drabness'. He lives in Finsbury Park, which, for those readers not acquainted with our capital city, is an area of North London also of unusual drabness. To begin with, Preston limits the setting of his novel not only to London, but also to a single building: the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, centre for the counterculture and some truly terrible gigs. Among the premium acts the place hosts are such delights as 'shadow puppeteers from the Andaman Islands', and 'wandering Breton minstrels in stupid hats'. Edmund is employed there as an accountant and secret assassin, working to find reasons for shutting the place down. But his encounters with the various oddballs associated with the venue, including the beautiful Lia (with her 'browny-pink' lips, the lower one slightly pouting), begin to complicate things rather.
Preston excels at both light, dry humour and the darker, more bitter comedy of decay and discomfort, if not outright despair. The Roundhouse itself, a symbol perhaps for the rotten state of the nation in the uniquely tasteless and depressing Seventies, is falling apart. Edmund is alarmed to find from