The Coincidence Engine, By Sam Leith

Tales of the totally unexpected

A hurricane in Alabama assembles a jumbo jet from the contents of a scrapyard. This is the kind of thing that happens when the "Coincidence Engine", invented by mad mathematician Nicolas Banacharski, gets to work.

A chase through America ensues – weapons dealers and the Directorate of the Extremely Improbable want to get their hands on the engine, while maths student Alex Smart is just there to propose to his girlfriend. The novel crackles with ideas; unfortunately the characters are not interesting enough to match. Leith writes well, but somehow the book seems to lack soul. The ideas-driven plot is reminiscent of Douglas Adams, but although Leith's prose is more polished than Adams's, he lacks his exuberance and humour.