Wednesday, July 04, 2012
Book review: Reconstruction by Mick Herron
Reconstruction has that tagline and I am glad I got past it. This novel is tight indeed, but has exactly the kind of metafiction approach that gives the reader thought at the time, pause afterwards and much to recall long after the strict narrative has been digested. There’s even a tiny deus ex machina, beautifully handled, that tells the reader that this is what it says on the tin – a reconstruction, from the partial, variable and deeply unreliable memories of others, of a series of events that are complex in themselves and utterly labyrinthine once motivations are added to ‘factual’ evidence of events. On the surface the story is simple – a hostage situation in which a nursery school teacher, the nursery cleaner, a parent and his twin sons are held in a room by a gunman. Below that surface are a range of stories: the spy, the police marksman, the police officer, the wife, the lover, the landlady, the … it goes on and on – a heavy event distorting the local universe so that everybody’s lives are impacted by the happenings in a small room dominated by an accidentally acquired gun. There’s some of that wonderful stuff that the British do best: world-weary espionage conducted by cynical men who aren’t paid enough to believe in what they are doing, but do it anyway. Le Carre and Ambler have a worthy successor here. There’s also some nicely handled police procedural material: close to John Harvey in gritty realism but definitely downplayed to perfection. Above all there are believable ‘ordinary people’. The wonderful, doughty Louise whose life is dominated by the arrival of a sick mother whose presence has taken over Louise’s home. The un-wonderful inglorious but utterly believable Judy who has been betrayed by life and who is definitely keeping score. And there is Eliot, a man whose life is getting away from him on multiple levels … all three of them, in a room with a panicked young gunman. I can’t say too much, because it gives away the multi-layered complexity of a plot that relies on partial reconstructions of an apparent reality to keep its many balls in play – and it does, very successfully. If you like pace with character, if you enjoy being puzzled and the world of British spy culture interests you, this is a fantastic read. It’s the fourth of Herron’s six novels, apparently, and I think I will be reading them all.