After having just read The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie, I’d say he’s nailed the comic/satirical novel! I thoroughly enjoyed the read.
The Gun Seller was submitted under a pseudonym. Once publication was assured Laurie revealed himself as the author. Considered a talented comedian, writer, actor and musician, it’s admirable he wanted his novel to be judged on merit not reputation.
A reputation that included: Blackadder, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster, and House.
The Gun Seller , Laurie’s first, and to date only novel, certainly has merit – a book I didn’t want to put down so finished reading in a day. The perfect antidote to the busyness of end of year classes and the lead up to Christmas. It is light holiday reading – take it away with you and pass on the joy to another traveller.
Laughter is proven to be the best medicine and sometimes you need a belly laugh. My dear friend and writing buddy Maureen knows my sense of humour and gave me Laurie’s book. She’d read it years ago and never forgot it. First published in 1996 by William Heinemann, it’s been published and reissued: 1997 Mandarin Paperbacks, Arrow Books 1997, 2004 and 2009 ( the edition I have).
Laurie told a London audience that ‘there will never be an American edition because, well, Americans can’t take a joke.’ Of course, it sold well and still sells in the good old U S of A!
I’m indebted to Maureen who felt I needed to lighten up (true); Laurie’s humour did the trick. It’s a while since I’ve read a book with laugh-aloud scenes and lots of giggles. The storyline is also interesting enough to be a page turner. The convoluted plot has more twists than a head full of dreadlocks.
Amazon’s blurb advises:… A wonderfully funny novel from one of Britain’s most famous comedians and star of award-winning US TV medical drama series, House.
The Gun Seller is witty and satirical, poking fun at all the cliched characters, plots and dialogue found in classical spy novels. There’s over- the-top action sequences too. Several involve the hero’s unlikely choice of transport, a Kawasaki ZZR 1100 motorcycle. The scenes have authenticity because the bio at the front of the book, declares Hugh Laurie is ‘utterly devoted to motorcycling.’
Here’s an extract from page 18:
“Now I won’t deny that the Japanese were well off-side at Pearl Harbor, and that their ideas on preparing fish for the table are undoubtedly poor – but by golly, they do know some things about making motorcycles. Twist the throttle wide open in any gear of this machine, and it’d push your eyeballs though the back of your head. All right, so maybe that’s not a sensation most people are looking for in their choice of personal transport, but since I’d won the bike in a game of backgammon, getting home with an outrageously flukey only-throw 4-1 and three consecutive double sixes, I enjoyed it a lot. It was black, and big, and it allowed even the average rider to visit other galaxies.”
Like the Kawasaki, the novel moves fast with a perfect blend of thrills, intrigue, and laughs. An easy uncomplicated read that’s difficult to put down. Laurie’s comic timing added to impressive research or believable lies. He describes technological gizmos worthy of James Bond, the tension builds and you imagine an episode of Spooks. To break the rules or poke fun at the genre, you must know it as well as Laurie.
No political correctness of course, and the occasional f-word dots the pages, but where expected. The sex is limited and the novel’s a safe read for any teenager who understands satire.
The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the American CIA have their foibles, failures and funding scrutinised and satirised, but underlying the humour is a well deserved pot-shot at the power and amorality of the military industrial complex – a term bandied around in my Anti-Vietnam War days and not often mentioned since. Laurie knows his history! His hero once an officer in the Scots Guards and a veteran of Belfast is under no illusions about who are the real bad guys.
The usual bureaucrats, terrorists, diplomats, femme fatales, bank managers and lawyers are all bruised by Laurie’s wit, but the sensory detail and observations necessary for a good storyteller are there along with some original descriptions delivered in Hugh’s inimitable style:
“uglier than a car park” “skull that dipped and bulged like a balloon full of spanners” “flattened fighter’s nose apparently drawn on his face by someone using their left hand, or perhaps even their left foot”
“my heart was going like a road drill” “sucking in suitcase-sized chunks of air” “gradually, grumpily my heartbeat sorted itself out and my breathing followed at a distance”
“her long brown hair waved and cheered as it disappeared down her neck” “the sort of eyes that can make a grown man talk gibberish to himself”
“lit a cigarette and smoked my way to the corner”
“I think I’d known she was going to be American before she opened her mouth. Too healthy to be anything else. And where do they get those teeth?”
Stereotypes abound but the laughs have no malice:
“… the guards at the door let us through with no more than a glance. British security guards, I’ve noticed, always do this; unless you happen actually to work in the building they’re guarding, in which case they’ll check everything from the fillings in your teeth to your trouser turn-ups to see if you’re the same person who went out to get a sandwich fifteen minutes ago. But if you’re a strange face, they’ll let you straight through, because frankly, it would just be too embarrassing to put you to any trouble.
If you want a place guarded properly, hire Germans.”
“I found a cab eventually, and told the driver in fluent English that I wanted Wenceslas Square. This request, I now know, is phonically identical to the Czech phrase for ‘I am an air-brained tourist, please take everything I have.’… When the driver told me how much money he wanted, I had to spend a few minutes explaining that I didn’t actually want to buy the cab, I just wanted to settle up for the fifteen minutes I’d spent in it. He told me that it was a limousine service, or at least he said ‘limousine’ and shrugged a lot, and after a while agreed to reduce his demands to the merely astronomical.”
Thomas Lang, The Gun Seller’s hero reminds me of smooth talking Jim Rockford the private detective in The Rockford Files, a popular TV show of the 70s. Not a stupid smart ass, but willing to talk his way into or out of anything — a cool dude with style. However, Rockford never carried a gun whereas military and martial art expert Lang can handle guns, rifles, rockets, bombs… nothing phases him and he has a plan for all contingencies.
It’s not a literary masterpiece but the 339 pages are satisfying and funny. If you’re looking for relief from the real world terrorism that surrounds us, then escape to a quiet corner with The Gun Seller!
Laurie makes the writing seem effortless – it’s a great debut novel and I hope he takes some of his own advice and writes another one.
Maureen ordered my copy from Benn’s Books in Bentleigh. Be prepared to have to order too because the shelf life in traditional bookshops is a matter of weeks and this book has been around a long time. Probably your best bet is to buy online.