Anyway. Enough pretending that reading fiction is a sin. On with the review!
Hugh Laurie. I know him mostly because of his role as the titular character in House. I remember one of my roommates went on a House kick, so I saw it from time to time. Honestly, hospitals make me queasy, so I didn't watch much, but I occasionally got a lot of enjoyment out of Laurie's performance and the character he portrayed. I really did. And then I remember one time when one of my roommates was channel surfing and I was riding his wave and we came across Stuart Little 2, and we saw Hugh Laurie playing a caring family man. It was jarring. We sat in a stupor for a while, watching this man talking sans gravel sans scruff sans sarcasm sans bitterness and doing it so well. And then, ya know, we realized we were watching drivel and changed the channel, but it was a magical moment for me.
The biggest surprise was when he won an award for his performance as House and got up to give a speech.
He's British! He's totally British!
I was shocked, and my roommates laughed at my ignorance.
And then just a week or so ago, I looked Hugh Laurie up on Wikipedia and was again shocked: the article started by calling him "an English actor, voice artist, comedian, writer, musician and director."
Wait, what?? English--check. Actor--check. Musician--check (he occasionally played piano on House; he's very good). Writer, director, voice artist--didn't know that, but no surprises. These are all things I can swallow. But comedian? Hugh Laurie is a comedian? House! Is a comedian? Unthinkable.
But I YouTubed Hugh Laurie comedy and, yes, he's a comedian. In fact, I think he's hilarious. In fact, if you care to take a three-minute-and-two-second detour and laugh a whole bunch, I beg you to click here.
Did you watch it? Did you laugh? Perhaps British humor isn't your thing; that's okay, I guess.
Anyway, after discovering that Hugh Laurie is funny, I learned that he is the author of one novel: The Gun Seller. So I had to give it a try. I looked it up on the Provo library website, saw that they had it and that it was not checked out, so I picked it up.
The first chapter was a brilliant mix of action and hilarity, and I giggled audibly throughout it (if you don't believe me, just ask my wife, who was trying to study at the time). I liked the second chapter even more because it was more funny and less action packed than the first.
At first, my feelings about the gun seller were very much the same as my feelings about Alcatraz, to wit:
The novel is in 1st person, and [very often], Alcatraz stops telling the story and goes off on random tangents. I, being the sort of person who would rather read a well-written essay than any book-length fiction, enjoyed these so thoroughly that, rather than seeming to get in the way of the story, I felt the story detracted from the tangents! I mentioned above that I occasionally found myself suffering through the story at times, but that was only because I wished Al would stop telling me his stupid story and go back to the good stuff.
Tom Lang (the main character and narrator in The Gun Seller) did the same sort of thing, but I enjoyed his tangents far more than Al's because the tangents are about real life things. I learned about guns and aerial tactics and diplomats--and lots of things not related to war. For example (though I'm a bit embarrassed to say this outright), one of my favorite parts was the book's one illicit sex scene ('cuz what's a Bond-genre book without a sex scene, right?). The scene itself was, I dunno, two or three three sentences that were nothing like explicit (Jack Weyland wrote a more explicit sex scene in his book-length-punch-for-LDS-family-services-masquerading-as-a-novel Megan, which I read in high school because it was a Christmas present). The reason I liked that part of The Gun Seller was that it caused Tom Lang to fill a double-page spread with some really down-to-earth thoughts about sex, which I really enjoyed (not least of all because of their stark contrast with the typical action hero's I'm-here, you're-here, we-may-as-well attitude on the subject).
So it's hard for me to recommend this novel as a novel. This is the first military-intrigue novel I've ever read, and I must say that I won't be picking up any Tom Clancy anytime soon because I really didn't enjoy it that much. Frankly, the ending came and I was like, "What? That's it? We defeated the bad guy, so now that story's over?" And also, in the second half of the book (it's divided into parts 1 and 2) Hugh Lorrie started cheating a bit by leaving out details to heighten the suspense (e.g. "'What do you want?' [I say, and then] I turn back to the window and listen to Barnes for a while, and when he's finished I take a deep breath, hoping desperately and not caring at all, both at the same time. 'When?' I say." pg 315-6). Maybe that's a convention in thrillers, but I don't like feeling left out of the loop. So I don't like the genre, and most of Part 2 is straight-up thriller with humorous descriptions and metaphors and sidenotes tossed in for flavor.
Another difficulty was the dialect. Mostly, I kept pace with the Britishisms okay, but sometimes they threw me. Usually just little things--like it took me almost a full chapter to figure out that "braces" means "suspenders"--so that wasn't too bad, but occasionally he'd say something that was totally incomprehensible to me, like this beaut from page 278:
'Twelve years in a sherry cask,' I said cheerfully, 'stuck out on a Highland hillside, waiting for its big moment - and then bang, doesn't even get to touch the sides. Who'd be a single malt whiskey?'
I had to read that one twice silently and then twice aloud to my wife before I could make any sense of it. Now, it seems glitteringly clear to me and I'm half afraid you'll laugh at me for not getting it. There were others that stymied me, but this one was easiest to find just now.
I suppose that, in regards to the British dialect, I should warn you that the F-bomb (such a terror here in the US that was have a name for it) is not used sparingly in this book. It flits around in GunSeller dialog like "Oh my heck" at a Spanish Fork young women's camp in the 90s. So, yeah--now you know.
I can't recommend Hugh Laurie's style enough; this book really was a joy to read. He's clever and fun almost all of the time (e.g. "When he got there, he sat down very slowly. Either because he was haemorrhoidal, or because there was a chance that I might do something dangerous. I smiled, to show him that he was haemorrhoidal." pg 266) and surprisingly poignant and touching here and there (right up there with the sex scene was one part where he talked about life's hard times, which was so good that I typed myself up a copy). For those reasons, I can't recommend this book highly enough. But the story itself is--I dunno--really, really interesting and exciting and fun and clever and smart, so if that's what you look for in a book, this is a good one, but I'da much rather just read a collection of essays by Hugh Laurie than this.
I guess I'm just boring.
The plot really was very good. There was action and there was romantic interest and there were several times when I inhaled sharply at the end of the chapter and turned my wide eyes to my wife and said, "The plot thickens!" (Unfortunately, I read the book silently to myself, so she didn't really understand what I meant. Cruel of me, really.) For that reason, I really did enjoy Part 1 a good deal more than Part 2 because Part 1 was more lighthearted and less military than Part 2.
The end of part one was where the action really started. Most of Part 1 was just witty writing diluted by all too much plot and character development (for me, I mean; you'd probably like it, if you're into that sort of thing), but then page 171 came around and turned me on my head.
"What?" I said aloud (my wife was at work at that moment, so I said this to an empty living room). "Wait, what?" and I had to get up and walk around, even though I was in the middle of the chapter. After the surprise had worn away, I sat back down to continue reading.
Little did I know that page 171 was nothing compared to page 172!
It really is a good book. I've tried to sprinkle some quotes in here and there to give you a taste, but I've left out my favorite parts so that, if you do decide to read the book, you won't have the best quips ruined. If you'd like, you can read a sample chapter online here. It's the first chapter, so it's a reasonable place to start; just remember that I said that I liked the first chapter, but "I liked the second chapter even more because it was more funny and less action packed than the first."
So in conclusion, let me just say that, if you like military-intrigue novels, this is a pretty good one, I think; if you like British humor, this is an excellent choice; if you like clever, thoughtful, witty, insightful writing, this is really top notch. It isn't my favorite novel, but I don't know that I've ever enjoyed reading a book more than I enjoyed this one--not since becoming an adult, at least (it really is hard for any book to compete with the thrill I got out of reading Marvin K Mooney Will You Please Go Now? as a child).