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Nick Harkaway
Knopf / Penguin Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-385-35241-3
Publication Date: 07-29-2014
352 Pages; $26.95
Date Reviewed: 09-10-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  General Fiction  Science Fiction  Mystery

It's terribly easy to find yourself adrift in your life; and equally easy to find a reason to take control. Both happen under the hood, when we're living not looking. One moment, you're in a quiet job that requires little more than your presence. In the next, you realize that your quiet life has taken you to the edge of a roaring waterfall of event and decision. Life catches up when you're not looking.

As Nick Harkaway's new novel, 'Tigerman' begins, Sergeant Lester Ferris is so immersed in his easy duty on the isle of Mancreu that he thinks of himself most of the time as the Sergeant. A veteran of the recent British adventures in the Middle East, where he acquitted himself well, he's now a bit long in the tooth for fighting, but the perfect ambassador / sheriff / counsel-at-large for an island where most nations abandon law and let the shades of gray cast long shadows. There's an occasionally frenetic American, a fascinating Japanese woman scientist, a volcano that might explode and obliterate the island. Crime is above board here. And there's a boy, somewhere between ten and fifteen years old, brilliant, a treasure trove of comic-book fantasy.

'Tigerman' is nothing less than superb from the first word to the last, thanks mainly to well, all aspects of the novel, but let's start with the prose. Harkaway writes in a combination of buttoned-down British snark when he's with the Sergeant, and with the exclamation points and saturated colors of the comics when he's with the boy. He's consistently funny, embedding his sentences with irony and jokes and endearing insights into his characters. Put simply, this book is great fun to read.

The engaging prose is in the service of great characters, crafted with subtlety and depth, but capable of the kind of surprises that those in our lives often send out way. Lester —l; the Sergeant, really —l; is the kind of fellow you want on your side whether it's in a bar for casual conversation or creeping into the lair of drug-dealing thugs. He takes those around him quite seriously but himself not in the least bit —l; at first. The core of the novel is the Sergeant's relationship with the boy, whom he sees as needing a father. As the sergeant allows himself to consider himself in this role, he grows even more engaging. The boy is a straight-up seven-alarum mystery, full of bustle and hustle, flitting in and out of the criminal margins of Mancreu, and the Fleet, moored just off the island.

There are lots of ways to describe the plot of this novel; it's a crime thriller with some fun and imaginative bits of speculative fiction around the edges. It's a superhero origin story, rendered in gritty realism. But mostly it's an ultra-engaging story, the very definition of a ripping yarn with characters you truly care about and enjoy being with, who find themselves in a mix of criminally hot water and emotional bonding. You can (and will) forget all the comic book movies you might have seen this or any summer when Harkaway turns up the heat and heart for impeccably crafted action set pieces. Then he manages the neat feat of one-upping himself in a manner no reader will expect. Harkaway effortlessly inhabits the comic book space of color and dynamics but manages to bring with him all the interior strengths of the great novelist.

'Tigerman' has a sort of timeless feel to it, and that's to its benefit. Nick Harkaway has managed to craft a novel that offers all the so-called guilty pleasures of comics and movies, using the not-in-the-least-bit guilty skills of a great novelist. Prose proves to be more powerful than any special effect, and story bond a father to a son or a reader to a novel.

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