Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

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Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Joe Spork is trying to be like his clock maker grandfather and not a crook, like his dad. However, life has other ideas.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: February 2012
Publisher: William Heinemann
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0434020959

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Joshua Joseph Spork (Joe to his mates) is a clock maker and clockwork mender in London’s East End. He’s spent his life emulating his craftsman grandfather, Daniel, and avoiding the shadow of his late father and crook, Mathew. However, one day all that changes with a visit from heavies, Messrs Cummerbund and Titwhistle and the even more sinister black-veiled Ruskinite monk. They want something that Joe only has a fragment of: The Hakote Book (Angelmaker of the title). He discovers that the mysterious metal punch cards in his granddad’s box are just the beginning. Can he find the rest and literally put the world to rights before all his friends are murdered? Assisted by a 91 year old special agent, an aged, ugly pug and Polly the insatiable (but rather useful) lawyer, he’ll have a jolly good try.

Nick Harkaway is the fourth son of John Le Carre, a fact he mentions on his website to get it out the way. This, his second novel, proves that the storytelling gift is in his genes and flows through to his keyboard in abundance. Yet Nick has a writing style that’s nothing like the old man’s (and I write this as a Le Carre fan). Angelmaker is a tense, funny, surreal thriller and cracking adventure that is so much more. This is very much a ‘you had to be there’ book. It’s excellent but difficult to explain.

The form it takes is straightforward. It’s written in alternating point of view chapters, swopping between Joe and Edie (the elderly special agent forced from retirement); up till their viewpoints fuse once they combine forces. In this way we learn of Edie’s adventurous past as we live Joe’s present, his history being revealed in flashback. Edie’s tales of daring mix with Joe’s unusual and often touching childhood. It’s a hard heart that won’t be touched by the story of Mathew’s last prison breakout.

Harkaway’s world is ours, as is its history, but there are surreal twists. These should strike one as incredible but, such is the author’s skill, they’re accepted without question. For instance there was a steam train around the time of World War II that continuously travelled the length of England used as an establishment for training agents. They were on there for weeks at a time, only disembarking when they had completed their course. When thought about logically this would raise too many problems to be a viable option, but I was more than happy to go with it. The whole concept seemed to fit too perfectly not to be so.

Nick Harkaway’s skill doesn’t end there: the characters and vignettes are as delicious and unexpected as a box of chocolates once the box’s contents guide has gone missing. One minute the reader is trying to escape from a moving train with the younger Edie, the next minute the reader is being educated in the customs and expectations of the undertakers’ brotherhood, or marvelling at the palace of a middle-eastern potentate with a particularly gruesome method of disposing of priests. (There is occasional gore in the book, but it’s heralded enough for the squeamish to avert their gaze in time.) Even some of the characters’ names roll around on the tongue, begging to be repeated at inappropriate moments of the day... Arvin Cummerbund... Rodney Titwhistle... It’s not just me is it? Also, watch out for the most logical defence of first date sex you’ll ever read. You may not agree with it, but the logic is marvellous.

You know, when you come across a character giving a tangential monologue or faced with long descriptions, sometimes it’s easier to skim? (You would not believe how quickly I can ‘read’ Dickens!) This book has as many tangential speeches and descriptive passages as there are twists, but I didn’t want to miss a morsel. Nick Harkaway’s mind is such an interesting, diverse place I wanted to savour every syllable. My only criticism was that Angelmaker ended long before my appetite for it had so, please Mr Harkaway, may we have some more?

I would like to thank William Heinemann for giving a copy of this book for review.

For more first-class fiction we can recommend Bereft by Chris Womersley. We also enjoyed Tigerman by Nick Harkaway.

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Buy Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway at


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