Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie

Before we get into anything else, yes, it's *that* Hugh Laurie, the guy probably best known now for his role as Dr. House. Apparently, it's not enough that he's a great actor, he also has to be a great parody novelist as well.

This book is a knockoff of the standard spy novel, as our character blends old-style pulp commentary with a plot right out of a Tom Clancy novel. Thomas Lang is a man down on his luck, a former military agent turned something of a drifter. With not much going on, he promptly gets into a hell of a lot of trouble, with all the worst people.

Quipping left and right, Lang tries to unravel the mess he's managed to get in, which involves the British military, rogue CIA agents, defense contract profiteers, and pretty much everything except a cameo appearance by Jack Ryan or the Russians. (Hell, maybe the Russians did show up and I managed to miss it.) As the plot gets more confusing, Laurie piles as many possible problems as he can on poor Lang, who takes it like a man with a joke writer on standby.

Perhaps this sticky wicket was just the thing to get Lang energized, you see, and just as he's getting set up to be the fallguy in a terrorist plot that involves going to Minnesota and pretending to be an American, then shuffling off to Casablanca for a bit of CNN screen time, our hero (well, the best person we can find, anyway) pulls together an even more desperate scheme to keep the profiteers from profiting.

Oh, and keep himself alive, of course. He's not out to save the world, after all, just his own skin.

Deftly handled by Laurie and featuring a plot more exciting than other action books I've skimmed, this book was a fast and enjoyable read. Lang reminds me very much of Marlowe, having read a Chandler book after this one. He's out skirting the law and using people as need be, all the while trying to get the girl. The quips and jabs are also very Marlowesque.

Where Laurie differs, however, is that the entire book is written that way, not just the dialog. Here's an example from the first chapter:

"His name was Rayner. First name unkonwn. By me, at any rate, and therefore, presumably, by you, too.
"I suppose someone, somewhere, must have known his first name--must have baptized him with it, called him down to breakfast with it, taught him how to spell it--and someone else must have shouted it across a bar with an offer of a drink, or murmured it during sex, or written it in a box on an life insurance application form. I just they must have done all these things. Just hard to picture, that's all."

If there's a chance to be Pythonly-pedantic about something, Laurie takes it. A British comedian from the days of Black Adder (and I'm sure, other things), Laurie has that ability to make the mundane funny simply by placing it front and center.

If you generally enjoy spy books and are looking for a clever spoof that doesn't insult your intelligence with its obviousness (ala "The DaVinci Cod" or similar direct ripoff books) this is definitely for you.

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