20 March 2012

Angelmaker (Nick Harkaway)

OK, so I didn't love Nick Harkaway's second novel, Angelmaker, as much as I did his debut, The Gone-Away World. But since the later asploded my mind right out of my face, across the room, and into a bucket, and I've never been the same, it's almost a relief, you know? To have my socks rocked off only three-quarters of the way?

Here is what did the sock-rockin': Angelmaker is the tale of Joe Spork, son of legendary London gangster Matthew Spork, who's chosen to follow not in his father's footsteps but his grandfather's by repairing clockwork. It's a quiet life, until underworld buddy Billy Friend brings him a commission from a mysterious client: a book of sorts, with punch-card edging on the pages, and an assortment of spare parts that somehow trigger the mechanism. As to how it's done, or what the apparatus does? No idea. But some alarming folk badly want to find out, and they're willing to destroy Joe Spork's peaceful, tinkering existence to do it.

The client, as it turns out, is Edie Banister, elderly but still formidable ex-spy--more lady-Bond than busywork LeCarre (and one wonders what the latter, Harkaway's father, thinks of the over-the-top espionage hijinks of her past)--and she knows what the machine is meant for, who built it, and for whom it was originally designed. I doubt it's much of a spoiler to say its activation could prove apocalyptic.

I suspect every positive review of Angelmaker will necessarily make analogies to clockwork, but it's terribly hard not to, as the baroque plot clicks away towards clarity with the inexorable beauty of well-fitted gears. There's action and romance and dry, loose-jointed humor, and a belligerent blind pug dog who's one of the greatest animal characters I've ever read. Oh, and wee but sinister robot bees! Many, many delights to discover.

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