I spy a writer out of her depth

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The Independent Culture

Comic thrillers are difficult to do well. Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination could have been a jolly and topical romp. But it is not. The pace is inconsistent, the few jokes that are mildly amusing lose their edge through repetition, and few clichés are left untouched.

Comic thrillers are difficult to do well. Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination could have been a jolly and topical romp. But it is not. The pace is inconsistent, the few jokes that are mildly amusing lose their edge through repetition, and few clichés are left untouched.

The plot is this: Olivia Joules, a freelance journalist writing for The Sunday Times about frothy subjects, wants to be seen as a serious foreign correspondent. Covering a perfume launch in Miami, she meets Pierre Ferramo, who claims to be French, but is, she suspects, an Arab. She is infatuated. In the course of the next few days Joules risks her life to save others when an ocean liner blows up. She then tracks Ferramo to Honduras where she is kidnapped and comes across an al-Qa'ida plot.

Returning to London, Joules gets recruited by MI6 and discovers that a hunk she snogged in Honduras, and thought was Mr Nasty, is actually a CIA Mr Nice. She is sent to Sudan, where she meets Osama bin Laden, while Ferramo, now exposed as a fanatical Islamist, gets eaten by a shark. Joules then goes to Hollywood where she foils an al-Qa'ida attempt to blow up the Oscar ceremonies with the help of her CIA hunk and Raquel Welch.

There are the inevitable similarities to Bridget Jones: lists of life rules, Mr Nasty turning out to be Mr Nice and vice versa. In this case the transformation is not between a doctor and a publisher, but a terrorist and a secret agent.

The Islamists are all swarthy villains called Mohammed or Ali, the handsome American is called Scott Rich. The dialogue is an odd assortment of homilies about geopolitics and morality - Bruce Willis action-man meets Bridget Jones - and, for the Muslims, lines out of Carry On Up The Khyber.

There is no reason why counter-terrorism should be portrayed with much accuracy, and it is not. But surely, with Fielding's background, the world of journalism should be more convincing. She wants to be a serious journalist, but after being the only hack present at the ocean-liner sabotage, she doesn't call her newspaper until the foreign editor contacts her. She then files a few lines, and hops off.

But does all this matter? Probably not. Fans of Helen Fielding will buy the book in droves. Olivia Joules, one expects, will return. Next time, perhaps, with a plot.

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