A mingling of financial high jinks and social satire by one of the most restlessly inventive of contemporary British novelists. Boyd (The Blue Afternoon, 1995, etc.) has found an almost perfect metaphor for the uncertain nature of identity in the Western world in the life of an insurance claims adjuster. Polished, bright, self-assured Lorimer Black spends his work life in London prying into the events surrounding calamitous insurance claims. Frequently he discovers conspiracies: a company claiming that inventory has been stolen when in fact it has been sold on the black market to raise cash for a failing concern, or a hopelessly-in-debt firm using a fire to bail itself out. Suave Lorimer, traveling with an attachÇ case full of cash, gently reveals his discoveries, gets the (most often hopelessly amateurish) conspirators to admit their actions—and settles the claim for far less than its face value. He’s a rising star in his business, but one relentlessly shadowed by duplicities of his own: his real name is Milomre Blocj, he’s the descendant of gypsies driven from Eastern Europe, and he’s pursuing a hopeless infatuation with a wary model, married to a violently possessive husband. The levels of falsehoods in his life (he’s even invented an appropriately old-school-tie past) have driven him to insomnia—and to the wonderfully named Institute of Lucid Dreams for a cure. Matters come to a head when Lorimer/Milo keeps probing into the curious events surrounding the torching of a luxury hotel under construction. His investigations, handled with vigorous detail by Boyd, eventually reveal a large (and believable) conspiracy set in motion by Dirk Van Meer, a gnomish, jolly, lethal powerbroker. Along the way, Boyd nicely skewers a variety of hustlers, from upper-class twits to the oily Van Meer to Lorimer’s zestfully thuggish boss, Hogg. His portrait of the hopelessly divided Milo/Lorimer is unsparingly sharp and droll. And his depiction of the manner in which Milo eventually reinvents himself, and defies the cabal, seems both right and moving. A harsh, witty, resonant novel, and an impressive work.