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by Nick Harkaway

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
© Knopf
Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker is sprawling literary adventure novel of mobsters, moles, spies and super villains, all of whose actions revolve around an ingeniously crafted and coded doomsday device and a rather mild-mannered clockmaker by the name of Joe Spork.

Angelmaker opens onto a warehouse space in "a dingy silent bit of London down by the river," where Joe Spork contemplates socks. Not just any socks, but the particular pair of argyle golfing socks he is currently wearing. And not just that particular pair of argyle socks, but the whole lorry load of socks – a couple of thousand pairs – that Joe inherited when his father, notorious London gangster and King of the Night Market, Matthew "Tommy-Gun" Spork, departed this world for "that great bunker in the sky."

He’ll take the socks. But the greater inheritance – his birthright as leader over a legion of London gangsters – Joe Spork denies, choosing instead the life of his grandfather, that of a quiet clockmaker. Spork belongs to a particular brand of British anti-hero, along with Arthur Dent and Bilbo Baggins, for whom the mere mention of adventure causes shuddering. Despite his imposing presence – his bar bouncer’s frame – Spork is happy in the quiet, delicate work that he’s chosen. Or so he thought.

Edie Banister is a small, coquetish, and silver-haired octogenarian who has of late engaged Spork on several occasions to travel out to her home in the unfashionable suburbs of London to ply his skills in the repair of various bits of clockwork and machinery. Living by herself with only a steel-jawed and glass-eyed pug dog named Sebastian, Edie Banister is frail, lonely, and perhaps a bit dotty. Or so Joe imagines.

In truth, Edie Banister - who was plucked from her girls’ school in her teens to study engineering and code-breaking, who became a lethally-trained martial artist and a secret agent in Her Majesty’s service during World War II, and who has done battle with her nemesis, the evil arch-villain Shem Shem Tsien, across time and all the world’s continents – Edie Banister is quite capable, even in her late age, of taking care of herself. And she may just be setting Joe Spork up.

But Edie is the least of Joe’s problems. Once the doomsday device, the Angelmaker, is activated, he finds himself at the center of a whole lot of unwanted attention – from a governmental Laurel and Hardy duo by the name of Titwhistle and Cummerbund and a mysterious sect of rather alien-seeming Ruskinite monks whose intentions are as shrouded as their cowled faces.

Joe’s childhood friend, Mercer Cradle, the principle in the law firm of Noblewhite Cradle, plays no insignificant role in aiding his old friend in his fight against those who would seek to do him wrong. Mercer, who takes the role of a Harvey Keitel sort of fixer in Joe’s plight is another of Angelmaker’s fantastic characters, as is Polly, Mercer’s sister, who in a strong female role provides much of the tongue-in-cheek humor that makes Angelmaker such a delicious read:

"I shall now explain my plan. You may then speak, but only to amend the detail. The broad outline is not subject to negotiation. Are you ready? Good… I propose to have sex with you. I believe it will be excellent sex. Your obedience on one particular issue of timing will be required to make it unforgettable sex. I will explain that issue as we go. At the moment, I wish to hear your inevitable objection to the general sex part of this plan."

Angelmaker is a blast, a sprawling 500-page narrative intertwining super spies and evil villains with motifs of mathematical beauty and artisanal craftsmanship. The real craftsman of course is Harkaway (The Gone-Away World) himself.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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