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Literature / The Quorum

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The Quorum is a 1994 horror novel by Kim Newman. It presents a Deal with the Devil updated for the Greed-is-Good Eighties: why sell your own soul for worldly success if you can sell somebody else instead?

Four young men who have been friends since their school days meet for a reunion. After one is separated from the group, the remaining three meet a mysterious figure who offers them a deal...

Years pass. As the year 1993 dawns, Mark, Michael and Mickey have gone on to fame and fortune in their respective fields, while Neil is mired in obscurity and beset by bad fortune; every time he seems to be getting his life together, something goes disastrously wrong. Down-at-heel private investigator Sally Rhodes sets out to find out if somebody really has it in for him, and finds that the truth is very strange indeed.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Derek Leech is very, very charming. Of course, this just makes it easier for him to negotiate advantageous deals with people...
  • The Antichrist: Derek Leech, in the sense that he came into the world with a specific mission to bring about its downfall, but not in any specifically Christian-mythos-related way. Other stories in the same continuity make it clear he'd rather watch the world sell out than actually see it end.
  • Bittersweet Ending: By the end of the novel, the contract has been broken and Neil freed from his torment, and the Quorum get their comeuppance. But this is all part of Leech's plan; he got what he wanted from the contract and is still at large to continue working toward his larger goal.
  • Broad Strokes: Sally Rhodes previously had a run-in with another of Derek Leech's plots in the short story "Organ Donors". In this novel, she seems to have forgotten some of the specific things she learned about Leech in the course of that investigation, and has to learn them all over again.
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • Several of the characters are fans of comics characters Amazon Queen (Wonder Woman) and The Streak (The Flash, with shades of Superman), and one is a comics writer creating a Crisis on Infinite Earths-style series about them for comics company "ZC".
    • The novel also mentions Dr. Shade, a British comics character who resembles The Shadow.
  • The Chessmaster: Derek Leech is shown to carefully research his targets before offering deals to them. He protests to Sally that he didn't do anything to coerce the Quorum into taking the deal, but it's clearly implied that he only approached them once he'd shaped a deal that he knew they wouldn't be able to resist.
  • Continuity Nod: The novel includes nods to several earlier short stories featuring Derek Leech, including "The Original Dr. Shade" and "Organ Donors" (the latter of which also featured Sally Rhodes).
  • Cool Car: Leech's Rolls Royce.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Derek Leech is literally inhuman; he emerged fully-formed from the polluted muck at the bottom of the River Thames and immediately set out to make money. He is secretly working toward some kind of consumer-culture-apotheosis apocalypse, furthered by making deals like the one he makes with the Quorum.
  • Deal with the Devil: Three young men make a deal with inhuman business executive Derek Leech for worldly success in return for extracting an annual quota of misery out of their absent fourth friend. It doesn't occur to them until too late to consider that it's more or less inevitable that one year they'll fall short of the quota, or to wonder what will happen when they do.
  • Equivalent Exchange: The Quorum's contract is all about gaming this. Even when magic is involved, success must be paid for by effort and suffering... but who says it has to be your own? Derek Leech ultimately games this trope the same way, by investing the Quorum's suffering in the success of his Docklands building project. The prequel short story, "Organ Donors", reveals that all of Drache's building projects operate this way, collecting the suffering of Leech's employees for his boss's purposes.
  • Evil, Inc.: Derek Leech's multinational corporation.
  • Given Name Reveal: Sally is the unwed mother of an infant who she's ambivalent about, and who is referred to throughout the novel as "the Invader" and "it". By the epilogue, she's reconciled herself to her child's presence in her life, and the final paragraph reveals that his name is Jerome.
  • Heroic BSoD: Toward the end of the novel, Neil undergoes one when the weight of his sufferings finally gets too much to bear; he sits down in the middle of the pavement, no longer caring to do anything or caring what happens to him. Since it's no longer possible to inflict misery on him when he's in this state, the contract is broken.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Derek Leech.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Derek Leech argues this when Sally confronts him. He offered the Quorum the deal, but didn't force them to take it, and everything they did to Neil was their own idea.
    Leech: I'm not as bad as the Quorum. I am incapable of the kind of quixotic malice they have shown. I can't feel like that. And, make no mistake, the Quorum are no worse than the general run of people. If anything, they're a little above average.
  • Humiliation Conga: All three of the Quorum undergo one when the contract is broken and all the misery they inflicted on Neil rebounds onto them. The one time Mark opted not to turn up for the Quorum's New Year meeting, the following year was both humiliating and disastrous for all three Deal-makers.
  • Inexplicably Awesome: Derek Leech first appears standing on the bed of the river Thames in 1961. He already has "language, knowledge, purpose" and a name, but he doesn't have any history before then. He goes on to build himself from nothing into a highly influential Corrupt Corporate Executive, working inexorably towards a diabolical purpose, not sleeping and chewing constantly to keep his rat-like teeth from growing too long, but there's never an explanation of where he came from. When Sally tries to ask him at the end who he really is, he mocks and deflects the question.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: One of the occasions when Neil's life collapsed under him included his steady girlfriend breaking up with him after walking in on him in an extremely compromising position with another woman. She refused to believe that it was just an unfortunate coincidence — which in fact it wasn't, since the sequence of events had been very carefully engineered by the Quorum.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Derek Leech is a hybrid of Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch, resembling the former in his early career and public persona and the latter in his later career.
    • The three successful members of the Quorum are also loosely but visibly inspired by real eighties cultural figures:
      • Mark Amphlett is a hybrid of Peter York and Stephen Bayley.
      • Michael Dixon is a hybrid of Clive Anderson and Jonathan Ross.
      • Mickey Yeo is Grant Morrison.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The town of Sedgewater, Somerset, where the four central characters went to school, is based on the town of Bridgewater, Somerset, where the author went to school.
  • Occult Detective: Sally Rhodes isn't primarily an investigator of occult phenomena, but in her appearances in this and other stories featuring her she has a tendency to run into it, and she has some idea what do and where to look for information about it.
  • One-Steve Limit: Two of the quartet of schoolfriends are named Michael. The second one to join the group is immediately dubbed "Mickey" by his new friends to avoid confusion.
  • Pinball Protagonist: If Neil is considered as the protagonist, this is kind of the point; once the contract takes effect he's at the mercy of forces beyond his understanding that frustrate his every attempt to achieve something, so while he does achieve some things before that point, the most positive action he takes in the main part of the novel is to completely give up. Sally, considered as the protagonist, doesn't achieve a great deal either. She learns a lot, but doesn't manage to affect the outcome much; in the end, the contract is defeated by an event that it's implied would have happened sooner or later even without her involvement. Her role in the story is to witness more than to affect the sequence of events. Even Leech doesn't really dominate events, just proffers the Deal and steps back into the shadows to await, and occasionally observe, the results to follow.
  • Red Right Hand: Derek Leech has a very subtle example that only the reader knows about — his constant chewing of gum and other things is because his teeth, like a rodent's, are constantly growing and need to be worn down.
  • Series Continuity Error: In-universe, when Michael's mental breakdown is partly triggered by a critic pointing out that a major character in his novel series is described as having two different eye colours in different places.
  • Theme Naming: The titles and title characters of Michael's novels (Colin Dale, Ken Sington, and the not-yet-written Mai DaVale) are all derived from London neighborhoods. The one supporting character whose name is mentioned (Barbi Can) is also named this way.
  • Verbal Salt in the Wound: Leech's pet malevolent architect, Drache, has an elaborate eyepatch, trying (and not really succeeding) to make his missing eye work as an Eyepatch of Power. It draws an unimpressed mocking comment from Sally — which, if you've read the earlier short story "Organ Donors", is an example of this trope, because he lost the eye in an explosion Sally herself caused to foil one of Leech's other schemes.