by Nick Harkaway
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 337 pgs. Fiction
Lester Ferris is a British soldier assigned, after terrible tours in Afghanistan, to the former British colony of Mancreu, which has recently been given a death sentence due to a large pool of biologically poisonous magma below its surface, which occasionally erupts in the form of noxious gas clouds. Ferris is told to mind his own business and turn a blind eye to troubles on the island, and to the menacing presence of the Black Fleet, a collection of ships in the harbor where businesses ranging from espionage to off the records tortures are conducted. But Lester is drawn into the island's business when he befriends a young comics-obsessed boy whom he comes to care for enough the he hopes to adopt him - if he is indeed an orphan. When one of Lester's best friends is killed in front of him and the boy, and then the boy is casually beaten and his comic books destroyed by a Ukrainian smuggler, Lester becomes Tigerman, dressed in decorated body armor and a gas mask, to scare and shame the Ukrainian. But soon Tigerman becomes much more, a totem of the islanders, and a shadowy figure who nevertheless stands reluctantly but firmly against the considerable forces of evil in a land about to die. Any description of this book will fall short of truly conveying its tension, good humor, deep sorrow, the depth and richness of its characters and setting. It is a tour-de-force, whatever that means and you should not miss it unless you want to avoid some sexual references and a fair amount of swearing. It is the kind of book one regrets having finished because then it is over; the book you don't want to take back to the library even though you have already read it.