The Gun Seller

⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 1 review.

Written by Hugh Laurie.

tl;dr: A surprisingly high-brow 'parody' of the spy genre that is also a very fun novel in its own right. Highly enjoyable, albeit with a slightly unusual narrative voice.


Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Yes, it is that Hugh Laurie – it even says so on the cover, for reasons largely unknown as the ability to act does not infer the ability to write. That said, in this instance, Laurie's ability to write is clear, albeit a little odd at times. For the most part, The Gun Seller is a ripping yarn treading a fine line between legitimate thriller and Bond (or probably more Bourne) parody. It is not a full-on, National Lampoon send up of everything spy, action and thrill, regardless of how it appears to have been reviewed. If anything, it reads like a serious book that just happens to have been written by someone with a particularly eccentric outlook on life and a slightly warped approach to the English language. In fact, I'd say that is exactly what it is.

The first few chapters, had they been written by most other authors, would feel hacked together, disjointed and slightly jarring to read. Every paragraph seems to include a breakaway where the main character muses on some idiosyncrasy of British culture, language or history. These serve very little purpose in advancing the plot and would be utterly bizarre if encountered in real life, with the key exception being that you probably have encountered them in real life. If you've ever watched Hugh Laurie in anything even remotely not-serious (e.g. House) then the speech patterns, turns of phrase and off-kilter linguistic jokes suddenly make sense. The result is a first third of the book that feels like you are reading the excerpt of Laurie's own mind. Largely it pushes forward with a (relatively) entertaining plot, but every few seconds it gets bored with the characters, bored with you, bored with life and just muses on something vaguely related in a cynical and slightly arrogant way. Again, most other authors would come across boorish or self-serving, but because you can hear Laurie speaking the words and imagine the slightly comic expression that accompanies them, it instead makes you laugh. It's certainly an odd way of reading and it does, at times, interfere with the story, but it can also be quite fun. Laurie is a very intelligent and well-educated individual, so his way of looking at the world, and the links between elements of that world he is able to spot, are nearly always worth reading about.

After that first third, however, the pacing and emphasis switches. If the first ten (or so) chapters are a disjointed mix of "things Hugh Laurie thought were interesting", strung loosely around a plot, the following two dozen (or so) are the opposite. The asides and sarcastic interjections are still here, but now they feel less like Laurie having an 'aha' moment and more like something the main character, Thomas Lang, would actually say. They don't break the flow of the story any more, but rather feel like a natural part of it. They're also a lot less frequent, giving way to a surprisingly well woven and intricate thriller that draws you in and turns into a real page-turner.

On top of which, the characters are refreshingly... well, not different, exactly, but different all the same. The femme fatale is also (twist!) the damsel in distress, though actually she's really neither. And whilst Lang instantly falls for her and she remains the 'love interest' throughout, this cliché is nicely offset by Lang's own constant admissions that the whole notion of "love at first sight" is idiotic and that this really doesn't happen outside of Hollywood. The Gun Seller plays with tropes, including the fourth wall, a whole lot but it never actually breaks them. In itself, this is a lot more clever than having created a straight-laced, Naked Gun style parody. It allows you to both laugh at the genre and enjoy it simultaneously.

As a result, I really enjoyed The Gun Seller. It is, at times, a very odd read and definitely takes a while to get used to, but the writing is witty and clever throughout and the plot holds your attention well. It isn't a book I'll need to revisit, but I would certainly enjoy a sequel, so if you enjoy thrillers and spy novels I can definitely recommend it.

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