Notes from underground

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Angelmaker: a 21st-century Victorian melodrama

AngelmakerAngelmaker by Nick Harkaway

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I read this book I had a line from an old Kinks record running though my head: “God save Fu-Manchu, Moriaty and Dracula.” The book has a villain who is like all three rolled into one, with the addition of a few more villains from Victorian melodrama besides.

But while there is a supervillain, there isn’t a superhero, just a middle-aged clockmaker who is trying to live down his family’s criminal history, though it turns out to be fortunate that he can call on his father’s old criminal associates for help when necessary. The plot revolves around his inadvertently setting off a weapon of mass destruction that was forgotten (by most) since the Second World War. Other characters are his lawyer, his girlfriend and a retired spy with a blind and almost toothless dog.

As for the story, it’s a bit like Franz Kafka meets Neil Gaiman with a dash of Charles Williams and Jean Genet thrown in for good measure. But it’s not really as good as any of those, so it’s a bit disappointing. There are some good witty descriptions at the beginning, but they are scarce towards the end, or perhaps it is just that that kind of humour tends to pall if overused.

There are too many plot holes to make it really interesting. It has some interesting social commentary, about the forces of law and order being beholden to the bad guys, while the criminal underworld turn out to be the good guys, the hope of saving the world. It is that aspect that is a bit reminiscent of Jean Genet, though Genet does it so much better. Perhaps that’s why the publishers tried to boost it by putting no fewer than nine pages of glowing reviews at the beginning, to bludgeon the reader into thinking that the book was worth the money spent on it.

It is the kind of book that will probably be made into a film, and one will know it has succeeded if the audiences hiss and boo whenever the villain appears on the screen.

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One thought on “Angelmaker: a 21st-century Victorian melodrama

  1. He’s behind you!

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