For many people, House might be their first exposure to British actor Hugh Laurie; others, especially if you live on the Isles or have a particular affection for British television, may very well know him from many other things. My first exposure was in Blackadder, with the stupendous Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean, for those who don’t know). What I didn’t know, however, was that Laurie had written a book; had written a book, in fact, a very long time ago (1996, to be precise) before he was an international star. Needless to say, I went out right away and picked up the book.
I wasn’t expecting The Gun Seller to be a fine piece of literature; actors aren’t generally known for their fine writing skills. Yet, I found that Laurie’s debut (and currently only) novel was not only tremendously entertaining, but also remarkably well-written, as well. The book is like the sort of BBC dramedy that Laurie has starred in previously: rapier-sharp dialog, peppered with particularly British turns of phrase; one can almost envision Laurie in the role, opposite Stephen Fry as the stoic Solomon, Rowan Atkinson as the foppish O’Neal, and some sprightly English lass as the ravishing Sarah Woolf.
The story of The Gun Seller may be likened thematically to the
mediocre Nicolas Cage flick, Lord of War: it’s a very oblique and comedically-obscured attack of the military-industrial complex, arms dealing, and its incestuous relationship with the government (any government). On the whole, though, it’s a bit slapstick, a bit James Bond, and a bit Bruce-Willis-in-Die-Hard, “reluctant hero kicking ass and taking names.” It’s the story of Thomas Lang, an ex-soldier working freelance who is drawn into a web of intrigue after he declines and offer to assassinate an American business. Insert into the mix several attractive ladies, gun battles, sex, more gun battles, hard-boiled dialog, and even a missile.
None of the plot twists last for very long before they turn in on themselves and become some strange new creature; they don’t always appear to resolve themselves either, as the expected ending for the book is deftly sidestepped but never fully explained. It’s one of the few faults I can find with the novel, including some unrealistic conversations and strange character decisions that don’t quite follow logically from the preceding events. Perhaps that’s an integral part of the genre that Laurie is spoofing (I haven’t read enough to know).
All things being equal, I really enjoyed The Gun Seller; it was witty, fun to read, and had a lot more to it than I would have expected from a crime spoof. I think Laurie has a real talent at writing, if for no other reason than his dialogue is so fun and refreshing and his characters are enjoyable. This won’t be the best book you read this year, but I heartily recommend it, regardless.