by Hugh Laurie
Cynical, wry freelance soldier of fortune Thomas Lang is hired to kill a man, but being a nice chap, refuses the money and goes to warn the intended victim. His discovery that the victim, an American industrialist, is also the man who hired him is only the beginning of a series of bizarre surprises and twists in store for Lang, as he is reluctantly involved in a plot to instigate a terrorist act so that a new attack helicopter can be tested out in actual combat. He falls for the industrialist’s daughter, is captured, shot at, and goes undercover with a band of misguided extremists in an attempt to prevent the gun sellers from benefiting from a bloodbath.
This parody of the spy genre is about three parts P.G. Wodehouse, two parts Douglas Adams, and one part James Bond. Laurie writes in a breezy, amusing style that draws in the reader at once, and while Lang is not 100% likeable, he’s a devil-may-care noir roué with a heart of gold. His snarky narration, constantly puncturing the stuffiness of the genre, keeps the pages turning, so the few bits that are really too over the top can be overlooked. It’s a very funny book in places, and the plot is wonderfully convoluted, with real drama near the end. The book could use a heavier-handed editor – perhaps Laurie’s star power prevented anyone from suggesting reasonable cuts – and now and then Laurie makes unnecessary, disparaging comments about fat and short people, which will probably not lose him any fans: but come on, Hugh, we can’t all be multi-talented, tall, adorable stage and television stars. Despite these flaws, it’s overall a delightfully funny novel, light and readable yet reasonably sophisticated.
[read twice: 12/23/06, 4/30/11]