Ironmonger (The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder, 2012, etc.) spins another nimble tale set on two continents, this one exploring the impact of coincidence by following a woman whose life is saturated by it and a man who studies it for a living.
The book begins with the case of Azalea Ives, found at a county fair in England, wandering alone, at age 3. The trajectory of Azalea’s life turns out to be one of strange events and coincidences that begin before her birth, extend into her 30s and, she fears, may bring her life to an early end. One frame of the novel describes her ancestry on the Isle of Man, while another digs into her early years as the adopted daughter of missionaries in Uganda. A third follows the relationship that develops when she seeks the counsel of Thomas Post, a young London professor specializing in the mathematics and philosophy of coincidence, and the most current frame watches Thomas as he tries to make sense of Azalea’s life with his friend and adviser in the academic community. The Isle of Man story is as wistful and charming as its setting suggests, while the sections involving Thomas Post are largely an enjoyable audit of coincidence science. But the Uganda scenes, as hinted at by the map at the beginning of the book, are the heartbeat of the novel—vivid and suspenseful even before the arrival of Joseph Kony. This is by no means a traditional thriller, but Ironmonger whips readers between frames in whirlwind fashion and is a judicious withholder of information, so the suspense stays taught throughout, and the game of connect-the-dots is always afoot. The two protagonists could be more fleshed out; Azalea herself has a touch of Manic Pixie Dream Girl about her, and Thomas is every inch the bumbling academic. Additionally, the narration can be heavy-handed at times, but this tale is not a character study—it’s a feat of cleverness.
Weighty topics are seamlessly woven into this fast, captivating read.