Gibson, Jasper - 'A Bright Moon for Fools'
Harry Christmas steals, defrauds hotels, picks fights with unobjectionable tourists, lies outrageously. He is a coward and a bully and a cheat. He drinks and drinks and drinks. You wouldn't give him house-room, and yet he makes for a marvellous book.
We meet Harry Christmas leaving a plane at Caracas airport with bold plans for a new life in Venezuela.
"Christmas bowed to an imaginary welcoming party and then turned to examine himself in one of the building's glass panels. Fifty-eight years old, fat, moustachioed, sporting a Panama hat, red trousers and a cream jacket, Harry Christmas flared his nostrils and sucked in his cheeks. He thought he looked terrific."
Unfortunately, Christmas has been pursued to Venezuela by his nemesis, William Slade. Slade is bizarre man with stepmother issues, a collection of knives, and an interest in Anglo-Saxon warfare. He has sworn to kill Harry. Cue a chaotic and often farcical chase through Caracas and then deep into rural Venezuela.
This isn't an idealised Venezuela, but a dirt-poor nation beset by crack addiction and violence. Christmas and Slade, for all their different brands of nastiness, are no match for the country, and in different ways they find themselves at the mercy of the locals more than once.
As much as Slade, Harry is fleeing The Rot, his term for the mobile phones, consumerism, and insincerity of the twenty-first century. Servants of The Rot include air-hostesses who stop supplying you with drinks, people who tell you to chill out, and people with iPods. He certainly has a jaundiced view of home...
At that moment two little boys ran past with spinning tops.
Harry's situation, it soon transpires, is also sad. He hasn't chosen to flee to Venezuela at random, but to fulfill a pathetic little mission of his own. There is a heart of gold under all the bluff and objectionable behaviour, and there are a few tear-jerking moments amongst the comedy.
On the other hand, Slade is a horrible man and capable of genuine evil when he feels brave enough. Some of his scenes are not for the faint-hearted.
I can unreservedly recommend this book. Not crime fiction per se - certainly not a mystery - but definitely in the running for cult classic status. Read it if you enjoyed A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, or if you think you'd enjoy watching Rumpole of the Bailey going off the rails.
Rich Westwood, England
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last updated 17/08/2014 15:50