Fiction: “The Gun Seller” by Hugh Laurie

Yes, you read that right:  Hugh Laurie.  In fact, on the cover of my paperback, the title is in fairly large letters, with Hugh Laurie in slightly smaller letters, all caps, and “star of the FOX-TV series House” under his name, as if there were more than one Hugh Laurie who had the potential to write novels and those of us that buy books at Borders are easily confused.  “No, not the Hugh Laurie, the star of House.  I want to read the novel by the Hugh Laurie who makes unusual objects out of Jell-O.”

But let’s talk about Hugh Laurie.  Yes, he stars in the hit TV series House, and has an impeccable American accent.  And the character of Dr. House is very sardonic, witty, and a bit of an ass.  But the real Hugh Laurie is not a doctor (though his father is).  He is, however, very funny, as evidenced by his turns in Black Adder, Jeeves and Wooster, and A Bit of Fry and Laurie.  I mean, heck, he even hosted Saturday Night Live a couple of times (although this latest episode wasn’t terribly funny — unless Laurie wrote the sketch “Bronx Beat,” in which case, he is a comic genius.  Otherwise, he was just along for the very sad, not-terribly-funny ride).

As I have never met the man, I cannot determine if the real Hugh Laurie is a bit of an ass.  I would hope not; he seems to be the sorty of guy you could go out for a pint with, bitch about your jobs for a while (“I don’t understand why Omar hasn’t quit already, for Christ’s sake.  It seems as if the writers are just looking for ways to make him pinch his face in ever week.”  [Hugh snorts jocularly.] “I know, right?  Although, it may have been that Bob surreptitiously sets off stink-bombs just behind the camera.”  “He still does that?”  “God, yes.  Can’t get him to stop.  Puts a dreadful stink over the entire production.  But enough about me, how’s your gig going?”  “Oh, work’s fine.  Although if Matt decides to ignore payroll for one more week, I’m afraid I’m going to have to punch him in the face with a brick.”  “Might I suggest a boxing glove filled with gravel?  Same amount of force involved, but doesn’t break any bones.”  “But I was looking forward to that!” and so on), then be invited round to each others’ houses for holiday parties and whatnot.

But Hugh Laurie is also a sensational writer — a witty, funny, technical-jargon speaking writer, and I love him a little bit more now than I did before.  (Also, he has the prettiest blue eyes!)

Thomas Lang is the star of The Gun Seller.  Lang is ex-Scots Army, making his living as a freelance.  This incorporates bodyguarading, odd jobs, etc.  Lang does have a very strong moral compass: he isn’t a hired assassin.  He states this in the beginning of the book, in the customary “How I Got Into This Mess in the First Place” speech.  Lang is approached in Amsterdam, asked to kill an American named Woolf, and he turns the job down.  Out of guilt, he approaches Woolf upon returning to London to warn him about the hit on his life, and ends up interrupting the new hired killer, thus thrusting him into the thick of the mess.

The mess is about terrorism, gun selling, marketing, and government conspiracies.  In essence, gun manufacturers manufacture acts of terrorism in order to sell more guns, and Lang gets messed up in it because of a woman.

It’s always a woman.  Throughout the novel, there are three: Sarah Woolf, the daughter of the hit; Ronnie, a friend; and Latifa, a terrorist.

The Gun Seller reads like some funny British dude is trying to be like Philip Marlowe.  The best part is that it works.  Have some quotes:

It was the sheer variety of pain that stopped me from crying out.  It came from so many places, spoke so many languages, wore so many dazzling varieties of ethnic costume, that for a full fifteen seconds or so I could only hang my jaw in amazement.  [109]

Solomon was waiting for me at the rendezvous with one of the Sunglasses.  One of the pairs of sunglasses, I mean.  Although of course he wasn’t wearing sunglasses now, it being dark, so I quickly had to concoct a new name for him.  After a few moments’ thought, I came up with No Sunglasses.  I think there may be a touch of Cree Indian in me.  [212]

And speaking of Humphrey Bogart (although obliquely):

Don’t go to Casablanca expecting it to be like the film.

In fact, if you’re not too busy, and if your schedule allows it, don’t go to Casablanca at all.  […]  But if Nigeria is the armpit [of Africa], Morocco is the shoulder.  And if Morocco is the shoulder, Casablanca is a large, red, unsightly spot on that shoulder, of the kind that appears on the actual morning of the day that you and your intended have decided to head for the beach.  The sort of spot that chafes painfully against your bra strap or braces, depending on your gender preference … [289]

I must agree with the back of the book and the bevy of reviewers in the front: this is a mix of James Bond and what I imagine Jeeves and Wooster is like (what?  It’s on my Netflix queue).  Having read a ton of thriller novels, the jargon is right up there with a Robert Ludlum or Ian Fleming:

The British-made Javelin is a light-weight, supersonic, self-contained surface-to-air missile system.  It has a two-stage solid-fuel rocket moter, giving an effective range of between five and six kilometeres, it weighs sixty-odd pounds in all, and it comes in any colour you want, so long as it’s olive green.  [332]

And because, after all, it’s all about me (and this supports my fantasy in which Hugh Laurie and I are fast friends):

‘You know what your problem is?’ said Barnes, after a while.

‘Yes, I know perfectly well what my problem is.  It buys its clothes from an L.L. Bean catalogue, and is sitting opposite me right now.’ [197]

In the end, the only regret about his book I have is — well, actually, two regrets.  The first is that it was too short, and I really wanted to get to know Thomas Lang more.  You don’t know too much about him aside from the terrorism muck he gets involved with.  You get glimpses, but it’s not fully-fleshed out.  And for this genre, it works, but I don’t leave the book feeling that I know the guy.  Secondly, that I read the words in a British accent, and the cadence in my head would put me to sleep every twenty pages or so.  Of course, part of that is that I read in bed laying down, usually after midnight when I should be sleeping anyway.  It didn’t cause narcolepsy when I would read it on my lunch break, so, it’s probably just me.

Grade for The Gun Seller: 3.5 stars

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