Osama Paperback – 9 Oct 2012
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|Paperback, 9 Oct 2012||
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Top customer reviews
OK, it's a little more complicated that than that. Joe, a private detective and narrator of the tale, is hired (by the inevitable attractive woman) to find the author of the 'Vigilante' novels. He sets off on a quest to find the implausibly named Mike Longshott, and the closer he gets, the more he realises that something strange is going on.
All the genre tropes are here. Whisky, hat, cigarettes and wisecracks, all feature. There are mysterious forces at work trying to prevent Joe from reaching his goal, but he tenaciously sniffs out every lead. He's the type of PI who takes fists to a gunfight, yet somehow stays alive. So on one level, there's not a lot new here, but this book has a lot of levels.
Firstly, there are the excerpts from Mike Longshott's novels that Joe reads as he searches for him. These are semi-fictional accounts of real-life Al Qaeda plots and bombings; they are well rendered and compelling. Then there is the fact that the world Joe lives in is subtly different from our own. I won't spoil how, but Tidhar feathers in teasing observations, that hint at where we might be, and what is really going on.
The work as a whole reminded me of Auster's The New York Trilogy and Mieville's The City & The City, but I enjoyed 'Osama' much more. It's more readable than either of them. Tidhar never forgets to be entertaining, even whilst deep in his metaphysical constructs. He examines our responses to terrorism, as individuals, and by the institutions that represent us. The whole novel can be viewed as an investigation into the fallout of being involved in a terrorist attack, yet it is full of wit and humour. This type of layered reality novel normally leaves me cold, but whilst I wouldn't pretend to have understood all of Osama's nuances, there wasn't a single point at which I thought this was a novel I didn't want to read.
The hardback is beautifully packaged with a gloriously tactile cover, featuring terrific and evocative art. The production values between the covers match that on the outside. 'Osama' is a novel that defies expectations. A peculiar between-worlds narrative, detailing notorious acts of terrorism investigated by a classic noir gumshoe, it's a mix that could have been an unholy mess. Instead, it's a compelling mystery with a handle on the state of the world. Highly recommended.
Joe's search for this mysterious author drives things as the action moves from Paris to London, and Joe is pursued and shot at again. Joe uses every trick in the detective's canon to evade those blocking his way, for example penetrating an opium den and later a private members club in Soho, where Longshot might be a member. Having worked in this part of London around the time the novel is set I found the reconstruction excellent.
Joe seems to be in an alternate Osama-free reality, and after one particularly violent incident, he sees a vision of the real London, where digital surveillance technologies bemuse him. One flaw in the novel are the short chapters from our reality which starkly report acts of real terrorism and do not read like excerpts from pulp fiction. An attempted scene set at a Mike Longshot 'fan convention' later in the novel grates because of this.
More seriously, there is an ending problem. This is chiefly due to the power that detective fiction generates towards closure. This novel has various 'closures' none of which really convince although one did strike me as having a superior rationale. As it stands, the novel halts instead of closing, which is a shame
And the plotting is masterly. Exposition and travel handled deftly, like an expert card shark. A strong thread of questions pulled me from page to page.
I'm not sure what to think of the woman who hires Joe, the main character. Certainly I did feel a lack of defined female characters, but haven't yet decided if I think there's a lack of defined characters in general. Not due to poor writing, but due to the protagonist's world view, and the world he's in.
Never-the-less, a beautiful book.
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