Ardleevan Press £17.99
ANTHONY GARDNER’s new novel is part thriller, part satire, part farce, and wholly brilliant.
It grabs your attention at once, opening with an early morning fox hunt down Oxford Street, and keeps it until literally the last page. A fox-borne disease is spreading across Europe, which gives the Prime Minister the perfect excuse to impose a new surveillance system bought from China. Of course, nothing comes for nothing, and the Chinese government wants him to help suppress an Evangelical Christian group known as the Brothers of Light. When the Archbishop of Canterbury refuses to co-operate, the Premier forces his resignation by threatening the Church of England with Health and Safety.
The biochemist Christophe Hardy works at a Chinese university, and has been involved with the group since he was a student. He is also mourning the death of his wife, five years previously. When he finds himself in possession of concrete evidence of the Premier’s intentions, he is suddenly involved in a chase across England to the one person who can lend credibility to a public revelation. It is reminiscent of an Ealing comedy — except that the villains have real guns, and no scruples.
Successful farces and thrillers demand complex plotting, and Gardner’s inventiveness and aplomb as he interweaves the lives of the most unlikely people are truly marvellous. The satire is hilarious, and sufficiently familiar to be thoroughly unsettling. The jokes flash and scatter like sparks from a firework. The Ministry of Parking waterboards recalcitrant motorists; local councils have phones designed to cut off one phone call in three. But it is also about a Christian who is learning to forgive himself, and a person realising that he can love again after loss. It can be read on many levels simultaneously, and there isn’t one on which it does not work superbly well.
Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.