The Mule by David Quantick
|The rustic simpleton sidekick...|
Thus far, touch wood, I have not been disappointed by what has followed, and thankfully (but unsurprisingly) Quantick preserves my remarkable run of picking winners. Jacky, the titular mule, is an appealing curmudgeon, a cynical, perhaps hubristic recluse, existing in and for a simple life, his only problems the translations of tricky passages from Europe's least respected authors, and antipathy for his mother's ageing dog. Into his life steps, inexplicably, a young, beautiful woman with a problem tailor made for his reluctantly inquisitive mind and particular skill set–an untranslatable book, which has, startlingly, pictures showing the young woman's own death. When she disappears, hours later, Jacky is drawn into a murder investigation and an unlikely partnership with a bizarre and dangerously unhinged writer as they race across Paris to uncover the truth. Of course, it all goes tits up.
It's hard to imagine the writer behind such critically acclaimed comedic successes as The Thick Of It and Veep penning a serious mystery novel, and as such I began the book looking for the punchline, for the next joke, pun, and if I'm honest, long sweary rant, to which I admit some partiality. It threatened in places (sadly, no sweary rants), but the comedy is rather more surreal or absurd, but no less enjoyable, deriving from the combined punctiliousness and gently derisory nature of the protagonist. His situation becomes more and more perilous and worrisome, and his one area of expertise, that of finding meaning in the obfuscated, fails singularly to support him in his quest until it is too late. In that respect, there is a little Dashiell Hammett to the character, and as Jonathan Coe mentions in a cover note, the plot veers into the semiotics and philosophy of language of Umberto Eco in a most diverting manner. Indeed, there is very little about this quirky and entertaining novel with which to find fault. So instead, I will rather sing its praises. It's a fun, diverting read, surprising and unusual, and, perhaps to top it all. features a cover with art from the redoubtable Moose Allain, cartoonist and Twitter ninja. As Jonathan Ames once wrote, what's not to love?
*Not that I'd make a thing of that, but as it stands he is married to a lovely lady with whom I went to University, and who attended the music quiz nights I ran jointly with another couple of chums (one of whom made me aware of this fact) and who played bass in the Cardiff band The Loves.