This picaresque novel revolves around two main characters, Danny Skinner and his unwitting nemesis, Brian Kibby. Danny is an Environmental Health Officer at Edinburgh City Council, good at his job but ever more inclined to squander his nights at the local pub, on the fast track to his own destruction.
Danny is fascinated by a current bestseller written by local chef Adam de Fretais, The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, purporting that the master chef is an alchemist, a magician, “his concoctions designed to… attend to the far more wondrous task of uplifting the soul.” Skinner takes a personal interest in de Fretais when he inspects his restaurant, considering the chef a fraud and buffoon with a filthy kitchen and an undeserved reputation.
The unfortunate Kibby enters Skinner’s life when the younger man is hired for a position similar to Danny’s, the quality control of local restaurants for the Council. Although he literally has no clue why he develops this raging antipathy toward the new employee, Danny detests Brian from the minute they meet. Caught up in drinking bouts and flirtations with the dark side of his nature, Skinner muses, “It was like it had happened to someone else,” his world taking yet another erratic turn, Kibby hovering around the edges of his consciousness.
His life spinning more out of control with each passing day, Skinner becomes obsessed with locating the father he never knew (who may indeed be one of three men, all chefs) and making Kibby’s life a living nightmare. Even his engagement to the beautiful Kay crumbles under Danny’s assault on everything he has thus far accomplished, every ill blamed on the unsuspecting Brian, who is developing serious problems of his own.
His life deteriorating with escalating debauchery, Danny loses control of the simple activities that once structured his life, on a collision course with his own worst self, Kibby a constant irritant and blight on his daily horizon: “I’m finding out the bedroom secrets of the master chefs all right, but not the ones I want.”
An existential twist sends the plot into the realm of fantasy with a heavy dose of irony as Skinner’s world becomes inextricable from Kibby’s, a tragi-comic dance that baffles both. Skinner’s escalating self-destruction is unleashed, Brian caught up in his own nightmare, a monstrous juxtaposition of roles that is mind-numbing.
As Brian suffers from an undiagnosed illness, Skinner schemes with Machiavellian glee, unable to resist adding to the torment of Kibby’s pitiful existence. This is a fascinating tale of self-destruction, love gone awry and an indifferent environment, a descent to the borders of one man’s personal hell and another’s salvation, all set right in a shocking act of retribution.