‘The Gun Seller’ by Hugh Laurie

The Gun Seller is a comic spy novel written by an actor who, if I recall correctly, began his acting career by enrolling in an archaeological degree for the purposes of rowing (and a fansite seems to confirm my suspicions).  It follows a man who, once his arm is no longer in the process of being broken, is drawn into intrigue, action, and accusations of attempted murder that resolve into sillier and more sinister things.

Some books I can pick up easily and slip right into, but The Gun Seller was something that I had to be in the right frame of mind for.  Two false starts in the year or so I’ve had it, but now finally I seem to be in the right place to breeze through it.  Perhaps cynicism and watching a lot of far too serious action films recently has helped, along with that blank space beside the letter ‘L’ in my A to Z Challenge list.  Whatever reason, I found it quite easy to become immersed this time around.

Though The Gun Seller deals with arms trading, undercover work, and ethics in ways that could be seen as similar to The Night Manager, it’s got all of the action and none of the description that leCarré’s writing has.  It confirms in my mind that it’s not the flavours or method of storytelling that make a book good, but the writer’s ability to pull off those flavours and storytelling well.  I’ve criticised both Reichs and Burkhart for concealing information and using poorly constructed short sentences, but here Laurie both conceals information from the reader and uses short and choppy language well.  It enhanced the characterisation and though I don’t like it when authors start knitting tea-cosies and beanies that you just  know are about to be gently tugged down over your eyeballs, Laurie at least hid them without it interrupting the flow of the story or the voice of the narrator.

There’s probably a lot of intertextual references going on in The Gun Seller that make me a bit sad that I haven’t read more widely in the spy genre.  I only read those that are well loved by family and friends, and even then only a few a year.  I suspect I don’t have the repertoire to recognise half the jokes and homages.  I’ve tried to find some attention to that in other reviews, but there’s mainly buzz about Laurie’s recent TV series House fogging up the search engines.

It wasn’t the funniest, the most exciting, the best constructed or the most enjoyable book I’ve read this year, but it was well made and written and edited, and I’ve enjoyed it far more than many others I’ve read.  I’m certainly thinking about which of my friends to lend it to first; there’s a moderately long list of people I think will get a real kick out of it.

Everyday Reads reviews from a thriller fan’s perspective and links to more reviews at the end.  Orchestroscopy has interesting comments on the story, narrator’s voice and characterisation.  Hughlaurie.net has collated some history and media pictures and reviews from the time of the book’s release, as a point of meta-interest.


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