Satirist Sharpe returns after a lengthy hiatus, anger undimmed, in an alternately cruel and hilarious tale of greed set in a contemporary Britain blighted by the appetites set loose during Margaret Thatcher's reign.
Those familiar with Sharpe's previous work will not be disappointed. This tale, like his earlier novels (Wilt on High, 1984, etc.), features violent slapstick (including a brilliantly sustained scene in which a violent, drunken husband has to contend with a surly watchdog, his wife's lesbian lover, and a drugged lout who has unknowingly crawled into bed with the wife); some spirited, acidic, precise portraits of authority gone amuck; and a grimly humorous skewering of human foibles. Although young Timothy Bright has served quite lucratively as a front man for some shady financial types during the go-go '80s, the crash in the early '90s leaves him broke. He secretly helps himself to some of his family's carefully hoarded capital and flees. The arrogant and not-very- bright Timothy bungles his getaway by running afoul of a powerful and thoroughly corrupt police superintendent. He ends up hiding out at Middenhall, a grotesque country house filled with an assortment of geriatric oddities and presided over by the formidable Miss Midden, and in the middle of a war. It turns out that the superintendent is determined to drive Miss Midden (his only opposition) from the county, the better to continue looting it. The apocalyptic climax involves a shoot-out between a police assault unit and one of the Middens, an addled hunter who mistakes them for terrorists. By the close, Sharpe, with obvious relish, has meted out punishment to the whole scapegrace lotonly the cool, practical Miss Midden survives unchanged. But while there are some wonderfully zany moments here, anger predominates. It's clear that Sharpe really is disgusted by his countrymen, whom he views as shallow, greedy, and dull. Too often, though, the anger overwhelms the satire.
A ferociously inventive but uneven satire.