The Gun Seller
Washington Square Press / Pocket Books / Simon and Schuster
Country Format Edition
Publication Date: 05-06-1996
340 Pages; $14.00
Date Reviewed: 08-06-02
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002
Hugh Laurie is known for many things, few of them related to reading or writing. He starred in the 'Stuart Little' movies, he played in 'Blackadder' and he starred in the recent set of 'Jeeves and Wooster' adaptations as Bertie Wooster. I'm not sure how many readers managed to find and enjoy his only novel thus far, 'The Gun Seller', but I am certain it was far too few. There are certain novels that are easily identified as safe bets to loan friends, books that are universally regarded as both funny and enjoyable. 'The Gun Seller' certainly qualifies. Laurie's concoction of crime and comedy is superbly well written, constantly funny and filled with many laugh-out-loud moments. But it also stays true to characters that aren't beyond the pale of reality. 'The Gun Seller' gets its laughs from well-wrought prose, well-thought characters and excellent plotting.
Thomas Lang is an ex-Scots Guard who is now a freelance gun for hire. Unfortunately, he doesn't like killing people, and when he's hired to do just that, he opts to warn his target in stead. That action turns him into a target, and into the purveyor of a first-class tale of comedic crime. Laurie tells the entire story in first person, and you can easily hear him speaking the part as you read the words. Reading 'The Gun Seller' is like hearing an ace comedian recite a hysterical story that happens to pan out to 300 plus pages. Lang is a stoic and honorable character, albeit a bit beat up due to his physical expertise and the general acceptance of casual evil present in today's society.
Don't expect a particularly highbrow experience when you read 'The Gun Seller'. Laurie uses all the tricks of his British brethren, but he's just a bit subtler than the rest. A bit. Still, anyone who has worked with Ben Elton and Stephen Fry should be expected to be more than a bit silly, and Laurie fulfills that expectation with ease. There are plenty of silly names and unfortunate turns of events in 'The Gun Seller', but the plot itself is no sillier than any Hollowood thriller, with planes, helicopters and technologically advanced missiles all playing their parts. Laurie is smart enough to keep the plot close enough to the bounds of reality so the whole novel remains within a reality that the reader can relate to.
OK, I'm going to spoil just one bit of this wonderful prose, just to give the potential readers an idea of what to expect. Fans of Joe R. Lansdale, Douglas Adams, Ben Elton, and Stephen Fry might find them in the range of the familiar. To most others, they'll just be offensive or funny.
"Imagine that you have to break someone's arm.
"Right or Left, doesn't matter. The point is that you have to break it, because if you don't...well that doesn't matter either. Let's just say that bad things will happen if you don't.
"Now, my question goes like this: do you break the arm quickly -- snap, whoops, sorry, let me help you with that improvised splint, or do you drag the whole business out....
"Rayner, I estimated was ten years older than me. Which was fine. I have good, warm, non-arm-breaking relationships with plenty of people who are ten years older than me. People who are ten years older than me are, by and large, admirable. But Rayner was also three inches taller than me, four stones heavier and at least however-you-measure-violence units more violent. He was uglier than a car park, with a big, hairless skull that dipped and bulged like a balloon full of spanners, and his flattened fighter's nose, apparently drawn on his face by someone using their left hand, or perhaps even their left foot, spread out in a meandering, lopsided delta under the rough slab of his forehead.
"And God Almighty, what a forehead. Bricks, knives bottles and reasoned arguments had, in their time, bounced harmlessly off this massive frontal plane, leaving only the feeblest indentations between its deep, widely spaced pores."
Laurie manages to keep up this frenetic witty pace for 340 pages, develop a number of excellent characters and provide a plot that would do most writers of so-called thrillers proud. The edition I read contained a reading group guide that is rather cringeworthy and an interview that is rather funny. The chances are that once you pick up 'The Gun Seller', you'll end up recommending it to someone else. Fortunately, it's in print, it's available, and Laurie is ostensibly coming out with another novel next year.