Joshua Joseph Spork wants to spend a quiet life tinkering in his repair shop and indulging his gift for fixing things that no one else can. But as the scion of an East End crime lord, Joe's peace is an inevitably fragile dream – especially after he is visited by a series of mysterious and grotesque figures in relation to some equally confounding commissions.
The gangster Mathew "Tommy Gun" Spork casts a shadow over Joe's life that the latter struggles to step out of, and it isn't too far of a leap to infer that this is, just perhaps, the author Nick Harkaway trying to lay to rest, once and for all, the almost unavoidable observation that his own famous father is John Le Carré.
The link possibly took up too many column inches in discussions of Harkaway's debut novel, the incredibly imaginative The Gone-Away World, but with Angelmaker, Harkaway definitely delivers the message that he is his own man.
The plot is a jigsaw of pulpish tropes: there are enigmatic hooded monks; female superspies; devilish machines; London gangsters; an underground (both figuratively and geographically) criminal society operating with its own morality; and the small matter of a doomsday device involving lots and lots of tiny mechanical bees, and which Joe's tinkering unwittingly sets into motion. But Angelmaker is a magnificent, literary, post-pulp triumph. Harkaway is something like a great big Labrador, bouncing up and down in front of you, demanding "Look at this! Look at this!", until you are infected with his joyous enthusiasm for, well, for everything.
The diversions and meanderings that, on occasion, tended slightly to detract from the flow of The Gone-Away World are still in full effect here, with Harkaway holding forth on subjects ranging from how to successfully stop a submarine imploding 1,000 feet down, to the minutia of laying out a body for funeral preparations. But he has far more successfully managed to blend them into the story in Angelmaker, enmeshing his enthusiastic discourses into the narrative as skilfully as Joe Spork manipulates his beloved clockwork gears.
The book needs a measure of trust from the reader in the author's ability to bring together what seem to be the disparate threads that kick it all off, but Harkaway fully repays it. Whereas his debut spoke of an emerging and important new talent, Angelmaker is an entertaining tour-de-force that demands to be adored.
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