BOOK REVIEWS: READ IT: FRIENDS... OR ENEMIES? PAST MORTEM by BEN ELTON (Bantam Pounds 17.99)

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Byline: ANDREA HENRY

A tried and tested series to churn out? A hero who time and again stamps his mark? For former stand-up Ben Elton, that would be the easy option. Instead, he prefers a completely fresh idea and a new cast of characters for each novel. And his ninth is no exception.

If there's a theme running through his books it's, loosely, popular culture. He's based past stories around TV chat shows and reality TV. This time it's the Friends Reunited website that provides a prop for a crime thriller with comic touches.

The recurring joke is that our hero is a short, ginger-haired detective whose devastating brain can't quite compensate for some equally devastating physical drawbacks in the love stakes.

The crime is hard-core murder. A major player in North London tarmac has been slowly and painfully bled to death in his home. Is it the work of one bitter building industry enemy? Or the doings of a psychopath with serial killer tendencies?

Newson uncovers a series of killings - a high-profile Tory MP, a Manchester squaddie, a Kensington slapper and a museum curator - but what's the connection? …