My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have to preface my review by saying I don’t often read thrillers or private eye novels as I usually find them not terribly well written and a bit cliched. I also don’t often read books that promise to make me laugh out loud as that’s a big claim, and one that almost always lets me down. I tried this book as it’s a debut novel by an author from the same city that I live in, and thank god for that geographical coincidence because it led me to one hell of an enjoyable read.
First and foremost, this IS a funny book. It did indeed make me laugh out loud on several occasions. The fact that Mark Porter used to be a stand-up comedian probably helps as the humour comes from the sort of observational material that some comics base their careers on. A lot of it revolves around the narrator’s dog, but not in a sentimental dog-loving kind of way, more in an exasperated stepping-in-things, inappropriate-contact-with-parts-of-the-dog’s-anatomy kind of way. But don’t think for a second that the book is all about gags because there’s a real intelligence to the way Mark Porter deals with relationships, especially the one between Horatio and his wife. There are sections in it that are incredibly well observed and insightful, and yet handled in a way that doesn’t disrupt the overall comic tone. That did impress me a lot.
Ultimately, this book is something a bit different from the usual British crime novel. There are no hard drinking, divorced detectives, and neither are there any fast talking, womanising private eyes. The main character is an Englishman living in Washington with his American wife, crippled by a lack of drive and ambition and resorting to private investigation as a way to somehow, finally, make some money and contribute to the household finances. He takes on a string of seedy infidelity jobs and struggles to get his clients to pay, getting beaten up by men in slippers and derided by random strangers for photographing pensioners along the way. When his best friend gets shot the detective work starts to take a back seat, but then kind of re-emerges while he’s dealing with those more personal issues.
I’d stop short of saying the book was flawless, but hey, what book is? As a debut novel this has to be up there with some of the best. And the characters were so engaging that I hope, in the tradition of the genre, they’re resurrected for a sequel or two or a full blown series. Great book.