Andrew works in the Death Administration department of the local council. It’s his job to visit the houses of people who have died alone and sift through their belongings to try to find next of kin. If nobody is found, a pauper’s funeral is arranged. Andrew goes beyond the call of duty by attending these funerals, because he’s so struck by the isolation of these people. He’s naturally kind-hearted, but it’s close to the bone too because he’s a loner himself. His sister rings every quarter, but he hasn’t seen her for five years. The only people he chooses to hang out with are his online mates from the ModelTrainNuts forum, BamBam67, Tinker Al, and BroadGaugeJim, but he’s never actually met them:
These were the only, and therefore best friends he had, and to meet them in real life and find out they were arseholes would be a real shame.
Unfortunately, his workmates think Andrew is married to Diane, has two children and lives in a beautiful Georgian house. He wishes he’d never started it, but he adds to the fiction every time they talk about families. And now his boss Cameron wants them to have “bonding” dinners at their houses, and everyone is looking forward to coming to Andrew’s and meeting Diane and the kids.
This is the time bomb that’s ticking as Andrew and his new colleague Peggy go about their work, drawn together by their sympathy for these lonely dead. And when crunch-time comes, his online train buddies come into the action in a surprising way.
Richard Roper wrote this, his first book, after reading a newspaper article about council workers attending the funerals of people who’d died alone. He has a real imaginative involvement with these lonely people, their lost opportunities and wrong paths. Andrew sees that this could be him – and it could be any of us. But it’s not downbeat. There’s a lot of fun with the stupidities of office life, and a lot of hope in Andrew’s coming to grips with his own demons. That could be any of us, too.