Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (Knopf, July 29th)-British Sergeant Lester Ferris has been sent to the (fictional) island of Mancreu to ostensibly keep the peace at the end of his career (after a rather disastrous tour in Afghanistan), as the island slowly gives way to waste and chemical abuses resulting in toxic gases that are affecting the wildlife and fauna . This “Mancreu Cauldron” will eventually destroy the island, not to mention leeching toxins out into the ocean into farther reaches, and its denizens have even succumbed to the toxic Discharge Clouds that have caused interesting, and sometimes dangerous, neurological problems. Leaving (that’s a capital L) parties have become the norm as citizens depart for brighter horizons, but there is still beauty to be found in the land, and in the people. For Lester, aside from an unrequited crush on a local scientist, he solves small cases and pals around with a young boy with a penchant for comics and a love of American pop culture. After a brutal shooting by five men in a local bar, resulting in the murder of a friend, Ferris is at loose ends, but is eager to get to the bottom of things, and enlists the boy to be his eyes and ears among the locals. The boy is ecstatic at his chance to be a crimefighter and takes to his new tasks with gusto. Soon, the boy and Lester embark on a mission to strike fear into the killers and what results is…kinda fantastic-comically, terrifyingly fantastic.
For all of his physical strength and considerable experience, Lester Ferris can come off as a bit hapless at times, but really, he’s anything but. He’s plopped on this doomed island, thinking he’ll wait out the inevitable by solving mundane, rather boring crimes and knocking around in Brighton House, but the crimes are anything but ordinary (one missing dog turns into a downright tragedy), and his connection to the boy that calls himself Robin (as an homage to Batman? his real name? ) is unexpected, and yet, as their relationship strengthens, he finds himself entertaining thoughts of taking the boy with him when the island burns, being a father figure to him, and is increasingly astounded at how much he’s come to love this funny, smart boy who talks like American film and hoards comics. With certain destruction looming, the populace grows restless, dangerously so, a gang of thugs has been terrorizing innocent people, and just what is going on with the menacing fleet of ships that gather in the harbor? Can Tigerman save the day?
This book, ya’ll. Tigerman is wrapped in a sort of old-school, boy’s pulp adventure package, but it’s actually a very timely book. There’s some pretty astute observation on how we treat our planet and what the fallout can be for us, the little folk, but there’s no preaching here, and the real meat of the book lies with Lester, who, in the beginning is just sort of existing, not happy or unhappy, but sort of lacking in purpose. It’s in the boy, and also the people of Mancreu, that he finds his purpose, and watching this transition, from slightly directionless, to full-on hero is a glory to behold. There are some phenomenal action scenes here, but for me, it was the quieter moments that made this book so good. The moment in which Tigerman is “born”, in the quiet stillness of a graveyard, is particularly perfect, and it gave me goosebumps (you’ll know it when you read it.)
Tigerman is about the birth of a hero, promises made and promises kept, finding meaning, the freedom we find when we take ourselves out of the everyday, and the fierceness, and heartbreak, of parental love. It definitely broke my heart, but good books have a habit of doing that, and Tigerman is so very, very good. Harkaway’s writing is gorgeous, and this unexpectedly funny, and sweet, and sad, and everything-in-between book will have you entranced. Tigerman is full of win, and roarsome, and wonderful. Don’t miss it.