'Tam and I took hold of Mr McCrindle and lowered him into the hole, feet first. We decided to leave his cap on.'
Fencers Tam, Richie and their ever-exasperated English foreman are forced to move from rural Scotland to England for work. After a disastrous start involving a botched fence and an accidental murder, the three move to a damp caravan in Upper Bowland and soon find themselves in direct competition with the sinister Hall Brothers whose business enterprises seem to combine fencing, butchering and sausage-making. The Restraint of Beasts introduced readers to the now much-loved unique voice of Magnus Mills and his surreally comic world.
Good fences make bad labors in this mordant satire of tensions among the rural British working classes from Mills, a former London bus driver. The trouble begins in Scotland when Tam Finlayson, Richie Campbell and their unnamed English foreman (who narrates the novel) must rebuild a slack fence before leaving for a more extensive job in England. Their on-site supervisor hovers over them nervously until Tam accidentally kills him by releasing a tension wire at the wrong moment. The workers bury the body, hoping his absence will not be missed. Soon after beginning work in England, Richie kills their new supervisor with a clumsily thrown post. The next assignment, involving seven-foot-high electric fences intended for "the restraint of beasts," yields yet another accidental death and coverup. Mills's narrator describes these horrific events in an hilariously controlled and pervasive deadpan. As bodies accumulate and vanish without comment from police or other authorities, the novel moves toward a disturbing--if predictable--conclusion. Mills's satire occasionally loses its edge when he describes the technicalities of fence-building (a conceit he leans on heavily) and spends an awfully long time lending his sharp ears to dreary sessions in village pubs. Yet between the dull stretches, the clash between power-hungry bureaucrats and alcoholic, downtrodden laborers finds haunting, comic expression in this promising debut.