I’ve been reading Hugh Laurie’s 1996 novel, The Gun Seller, and, even though I’m only about two-thirds of the way through, I felt like letting you all know about it. Most of you are probably saying: “Hugh Laurie? That asshole Dr. House?” or “Isn’t he the guy in Stuart Little?” or (if you’re extremely intelligent) “Hugh Laurie? He was awesome in Blackadder and/or Jeeves and Wooster!” The answer to all of those questions is “Yes. That Hugh Laurie.”
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be shilling for a “celebrity author.” But, this book is different for two reasons. First, I love that lanky British bastard. And, two, The Gun Seller is an amazingly funny espionage/mystery pastiche. Laurie is channeling everyone from Robert Ludlum and Ian Fleming to Raymond Chandler and P.G. Wodehouse.
The story concerns Tom Lang, a former member of the Scots Guard who now makes his living as a hired gun of sorts. Unlike Jason Bourne and James Bond, Lang is not a blood-thirsty killer. Sure, he can usually handle himself in a fight, but Lang’s a lot more like Chandler’s Philip Marlowe–a knight in tarnished armor, a nice guy with a smart mouth. For example, while noting the lack of security at Britain’s Ministry of Defense, Lang muses: “If you want a place guarded properly, hire Germans.” Like Marlowe, Lang gets himself balls-deep in trouble–we’re talking crazy industrialists, megalomaniacal billionaires, the CIA, the MoD, terrorists, and dames–because he’s (more often than not) too nice to tell people to fuck off.
The Gun Seller is told in the first-person (as many of the best detective novels are), so the reader gets the pleasure of hearing the rare snide comment that Lang simply thinks without vocalizing. Like Marlowe, Lang has seen his fair share of nasty business and, as you can expect, is a bit cynical because of it. However, Laurie tempers Lang’s cynicism with a sprinkling of wit and whimsy that I’ve come to expect from Brits like Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, or Terry Pratchett.