I don’t often get surprised by a book and most especially thrillers but if this novel was a friend, it would be the big, friendly, daft-as-a-chunk mate who can be relied on to back you up in a bar brawl. There doesn’t seem to be much going on upstairs but this is the mate who can see the thrown bar stool before it’s even picked up… but then this novel is absolutely teeming with ninjas. And mimes, a circus of hippies all called ‘K’, a truck-driving hero called Gonzo, an old martial teacher by the name of Wu, another martial arts instructor called Ronnie, an Oxford-educated pirate called Zaher Bey, a mysterious figure called Doctor Andromas, a gang of mates called the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company of Exmoor County who hang out in a place called the Nameless Bar. There are more ideas and more humanity in this book than in forty years of Man Booker guff-and-nonsense (hey, you know I’m a fan of ‘novels’ without stories, right? Woo-hoo, Costa Book Awards… shame about the drek they call coffee mind.)
Anyway, nothing sells a book quite like a moment of high-drama or better still, a quote:
Down by the door, four ninjas pursuing Zaher Bey find themselves confronted with a prune-faced bloke aged about a hundred and nine. They laugh at him. Ronnie Cheung turns on his heel and drops his trousers to expose his ugly, wrinkled arse. The ninjas freeze. It isn’t just the sheer gall of this action; Ronnie Cheung’s arse is a startling sight, and where it cleaves there are suggestions of unspeakable mysteries, hirsute awfulness best left unexamined. Ronnie smiles over one shoulder at the ninjas, removes his left leg from his trousers, and kicks the nearest one in the throat…
Published on 29 January 2009, you can order from here.
I have somehow got my hands on a signed advance copy and I’m keeping it. This is a definite re-read and very likely an all-time Top Ten candidate (though like the best whisky, these things take time to prove).