Russell Kane's debut novel, The Humorist, hangs on a delicious set-up: Benjamin White, the book's central character is the caustic comedy critic for a sniffy journal called the Review (note to reader, please insert your own jokes here). While his withering words have been the death of many comedian's careers, White harbours an impossible affliction - he is unable to laugh. He can appreciate a joke, he can deconstruct it perfectly (almost too perfectly), he just can't fully revel in it by cracking so much as a smile.
The Humorist arrives with something of an impressive pedigree. Kane is one of the leading lights of the British comedy circuit. Like White, who sets out to write and deliver the perfect joke - one which is so good, so powerful it would kill anyone unfortunate enough to hear it - he should know a thing or two about what makes a decent gag.
Somehow, Kane's natural sparkle and easy delivery loses its lustre in print and the appetising promise of the set-up reveals itself to be nothing more than that. Simply and surprisingly, his novel isn't that funny.