Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

This is Harkaway’s second novel, and one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. It’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels meets Philip Pullman meets Sherlock Holmes, and packs a punch of adventure, political introspection and old-fashioned gangster violence without ever taking itself too seriously. The Guardian’s Steven Poole likened Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World to ‘spending a week with a hyperactive puppy’, and there’s more than a hint of that here. But what could be an overwhelming combination of grand, wheeling plots, exuberant characters and social critique, is instead carried off with an impressive deftness and warmth.

Joe Spork makes a threadbare living as a clockmaker in 21st century London, studiously ignoring the patchy legacy of his gentleman-gangster father until he is unwillingly swept up in a conspiracy that threatens to end the world. An extraordinary machine is uncovered, pulling him into a story that spans the past century, and into the plots of a religious cult, an ex-member of the British Secret Service, a South Asian dictator, the murky depths of the British government, and eventually into the tangled history of his own family.

Harkaway is the son of John Le Carré, and a similarly serious social bent emerges in the book’s examination of governmental powers/accountability post the War on Terror. Essentially though, he seems to have a lot more fun. Angelmaker makes no apologies for indulgence (at 500-odd pages), playing with politics, colonialism and romance in a dapper, dangerous and completely fantastic underworld. It’s in no way ‘a serious book for adults’, and that’s what makes it so good. It’s dark, clever, funny and wonderful. Get it.

Imogen Dewey is from Readings Carlton