Depressing fable of 21st-century Britain takes us inside the warped and febrile mind of a free-market psychopath—in this first US appearance for English author King.
Jonathan Jeffreys is the sort of upper-class villain we’ve met before in the novels of Bret Easton Ellis or films of Mike Leigh: nihilistic, demented, well-connected, well-dressed, and utterly devoid of conscience. A management consultant who specializes in hospital administration, Jeffreys serves as a government inspector, evaluating the efficiency of various hospital facilities and programs. Although he despises unions and looks down on the lower classes as ignorant rabble, Jeffreys is suavely diplomatic and manages to inspire trust and even a kind of affection in the underpaid workers whose jobs he sets out to eliminate. One of these is Ruby James, a nurse at one of the hospitals Jeffreys has come to streamline. Like most of the hospital staff, Ruby sees Jeffreys only as a quiet and polite man who works extremely long hours and keeps largely to himself. It doesn’t occur to her to wonder whether there has been a noticeable increase in patient deaths since Jeffreys arrived, or whether there’s anything unusual in his wandering through remote wards by himself late at night. When Ron Dawes, a retired union organizer whom Ruby looked after in her ward, dies somewhat suddenly one night, Jeffreys makes a point of consoling Ruby (who had grown fond of the old guy). But how much comfort is there in the condolences of a man who, as a child, used to torture his pet dog and likes to relax by urinating into the mouths of prostitutes? And will Ruby be able to sense threat before it turns into full-fledged danger?
Genuinely engrossing and utterly creepy, but White Trash suffers badly from a two-dimensional villain (an agitprop meanie who could have been named Mr. Capitalist), as well as from the colorless normal characters who oppose him.