Imagine Superman in Grand Fenwick and you’ll have some idea of Harkaway’s (Angelmaker, 2012, etc.) brilliantly imagined latest romp.
“It’s amazing being a superhero,” says Lester Ferris as the action winds down at the end of Harkaway’s latest. “It’s totally mad.” Ferris, aka the Sergeant, hasn’t been on Mancreu for long, but he’s lived 10 lifetimes there. Posted to a supposedly quiet patch of earth after long, soul-shattering duty in Afghanistan (“the Americans called it a Total Goatfuck”) and Iraq, he’s found himself on a spit of land out in the Arabian Sea that, thanks to climate change, is in danger of receding under the waves—but until that time is a convenient entrepôt for drug dealers, arms smugglers, pirates, spies, defectors, flimflam artists, multinational corporatists and all the usual suspects, not least of them numerous powers NATO and otherwise: “[V]arious interests,” writes Harkaway, “were making use of the lawless nature of the Mancreu waters for things they might not otherwise be able to do.” Mancreu’s hub is a cafe owned by a fine fellow named Shola, who’s mowed down by gunmen for no apparent reason. The Sergeant, aided—or perhaps not—by shadowy figures flying the stars and stripes and the tricolor, is at a loss until, visited of a night by a tiger, he takes on the superhero guise of the title, suggested to him by a comic-book–loving, lonely teenager helpfully named Robin. The ensuing showdown is full of in-jokes, knowing nods to the headlines and miscreant Belgians, which will please fans of Monty Python if not necessarily the good burghers of Antwerp. The cast of characters is straight out of a Milton Caniff cartoon, with names like Bad Jack, White Raoul and the Witch, but the burdens poor Mancreu has to bear, from land rape and gang war to toxic dumping and international intrigue, are thoroughly modern millstones.
A hoot and a half, and then some: hands down, the best island farce since Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle half a century ago.