Fulbright’s (The Man with a Charmed Life, 2014) novel details a hostage situation and the mysterious information it uncovers.
When Phil Harrington and his partners decide to take hostages, their reasoning is altruistic. Calling themselves New METRO—“Because we aim to give new meaning to our city’s underground system through those five letters M, E, T, R, O: Meaningful Endeavour To Reach Out. To reach out to London’s homeless and dispossessed”—the group hatches a scheme that involves Uzis and a crowded London theater. Without spilling any blood, they successfully capture the prime minister’s son, among others in the theater. The group feels they might be on to something, despite some less than supportive press—“West End madmen tell Hastings: Help the homeless or we kill your son,” one headline reads; “Semtex suicide sadists sabotage Stoppard,” says another—which they dismiss as “right-wing garbage.” After one of the kidnapping collaborators discovers a vault connecting to the theater, the story takes a strange turn. It’s full of invaluable art as well as a mysterious casket. Could its contents redefine history? Heavy on word count (at 600-plus pages) and wordplay—“ ‘Selling Oyster cards?’ said Devonshire. ‘Must have been where he got his pearl of a brainwave’ ” —the story features cultivated characters discussing sophisticated subjects. “Whatever you may care to believe to the contrary,” a hostage says, “a smutty 20th century magazine purveying toilet-door plautitudes (sic) is not the ideal source for glosses to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.” With mentions of everything from Kramskoi’s Christ in the Wilderness to Goethe’s Faust to the Septuagint, the frequent dialogue is dense with cultural references and educated assertions, often with a lighthearted touch. The value of such references relies largely on the reader’s tolerance for remarks such as “Methinks he was flatulent. Difficult to dazzle students with the square on your hypotenuse, while you’re producing fragrant ellipses from your anus.”
A complex, out-of-the-ordinary thriller loaded with worldly characters.