If you love spy stories and spoofs of spy stories, you’ll love this debut novel by that sharp-tongued dry-humored wit named Hugh Laurie, best known to Americans for his brilliant but irritating Dr. House television character. Laurie’s hero in The Gun Seller is Thomas Lang, a former Scots Guard turned man-for-hire whose first line in the book is “Imagine that you have to break someone’s arm.” He goes through all the ways such thuggery can be accomplished, and it is not until several paragraphs in that you learn it is Lang’s arm that is about to go snap, crackle and pop. And with that shot of literary adrenaline, the reader is off on a spy adventure that keeps get bigger and scarier by the page.
Lang is a poor and somewhat down-on-his-luck fellow with good martial arts, weaponry and thinking skills who refuses a job to assassinate someone, and then runs into a whole lot of trouble when he tries to warn the target. It doesn’t take long before the bodies start to pile up, a grey-eyed beauty steals his heart, the defense departments and rogue elements of several intelligence agencies get caught in the act, and it remains unclear for long chunks of the story who the bad guys are – except, of course, for a Machiavellian billionaire and arms dealer named, appropriately, Murdah. Lang is blackmailed into joining a foreign terrorist group which, true to form, is financed by global arms dealers looking for triggers to spur their fortunes. Lang is also shadowed by a somewhat mysterious and occasionally sympathetic character named Solomon (who will undoubtedly be played in the movie by a Peter Lorre look-alike), who keeps calling Lang “master,” but which for some reason works.
In the first two-thirds of the book, we get to meet the main characters, and are given some clues as to the rapidly-evolving plot. The last third of the book is non-stop action, and if you’re not sure what’s going on, not to worry because Lang does and that’s what counts. What makes the book a winner, however, is Lang’s (Laurie’s) non-stop wit, sometimes in the form of repartee with his love interests, interrogators, torturers and handlers, and other times in Lang’s stream-of-consciousness commentary on the insane world around him. He shows no reverence for those war-mongers inside the government, military and intelligence communities who are running around in the guise of anti-terrorists, while showing a great deal of insight into how today’s geopolitical alignments actually work. I would say that the world could use a lot more of Laurie’s humor-laced input just about now.