Books: Buchan trends in Peckham

Remembrance Day by Henry Porter Orion pounds 12.99
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The Independent Culture
You cannot hope

to bribe or twist,

thank God! the

British journalist.

So wrote Humbert Wolfe. You can, however, seduce him (or her), with the prospect of oodles of lolly, into having a go at writing thrillers. Frederick Forsyth and Robert Harris have made the transition from the hacks' trade to millionairedom with panache. Now Henry Porter, freelance journalist and British editor of Vanity Fair, is having a go.

He takes to the genre as if born to it in this tale of terrorism among the Irish and their vengeful, British freebooting foes. He does so, however, not so much in the manner of Forsyth or Harris as in the simplistic goodies- and-baddies style of an author who wrote thrillers much earlier in the century, John Buchan. Accordingly, his goodies are goodies with a vengeance.

Our hero, an Irish molecular biologist named Constantine Lindow, is a "good-looking, slender man just under six feet tall". He is very brave.

The heroine, Mary (who would not have made it into the anti-semitic Buchan's fictions, since she is part-Jewish, as well as part-American for the transatlantic market), is "quite, quite beautiful". They indulge in intermittent bouts of sex, rather bold by Buchan's standards but quite chaste by today's criteria.

The villain, a former British army officer who has turned rogue after being involved in a terrorist bomb incident in which Constantine and his IRA brother Eamonn were involved some years previously, is as dastardly as they come: "probably the most dangerous assassin at large in the world today". Can he be foiled in his atttempt to commit an atrocity to end all atrocities? Guess.

While Porter's characters are elementarily Buchanesque, their methods are decidedly of our cyberage, and Porter demonstrates a familiarity with state-of-the-art technology which is either the real thing or else a convincing spoof. Anyhow, he bewildered me with his detailed descriptions of terrorism by e-mail and computers and counter-terrorism achieved by breaking codes with the aid of genetic biology. There are also useful tips (pointless in my case) on how to make your hair appear to recede for a phoney passport photo.

Porter's style is, according to taste, either crisp or stilted. He injects insufficient humour, though shows he is capable of a good joke when so inspired, as when he refers to "a French film which starred Stephane Audran and seemed to be set entirely in restaurants"; maybe his true metier lies in movie criticism.

On the other hand, I grew tired of his frequent resort to the lazy novelist's device of breaking up blocks of dialogue with reference to the eating habits of his characters, who interrupt their conversations by folding napkins, draining caffe latte, brushing away cappuccino froth, biting radishes and toying with cubes of grilled cheese. Come to think of it, a great deal of this novel seems to be set in restaurants.

It does, however, move into the wider world for a man-hunt in the wilds of Maine and a nail-biting climax in, of all places, Peckham. The book ends with a funeral. (There are no weddings, though there is a marriage break-up involving the goodie police officer, Commander Forbes, who allies himself with Lindow and foils conspiracies in the Cabinet Office.) On the other hand, there is a happy ending of sorts, with hopes of further romance in the book's final sentence. Can we be in for a sequel? Is Lindow Henry Porter's Richard Hannay ? Now read on.