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All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills

This is another black comedy of the highest order from a master of novels about men and their work.  It’s Mills’ second book, the third I’ve read, and the best yet for me. 

We meet a man and his motorcycle, who are camping in the Lake District as a prelude to going off the India. It’s just about the end of the season, and our chap is in no hurry to get going on his road trip, so when the campsite owner, Tommy Parker, offers him some odd jobs, he’s happy to oblige. The local store owner runs out of baked beans, and won’t restock which is irksome, but he does get accepted into the darts team at the local pub, which then runs out of draught ale.  The simple jobs he does all turn out to be marathon tasks, and he’s warned about Tommy’s temper.  Meanwhile, nobody ever exchanges any money – there’s no sign of any cash coming from Tommy and his tabs are racking up – but he doesn’t like to make a fuss.  The milkman is also going mad, and everyone seems to think our narrator would be good for the job – why?  He can’t understand it, he’s helplessly trapped by his own helpfulness!

What Mills does so well is to take the ordinary, everyday slog and dissect it.  He pares work down to the barest actions and motives.  No-one is deliberately bad, indeed, their intentions are mostly good. It’s just the roundabout ways in which people do things obscure why they’re doing it ensuring that everything gets over-complicated, and this leads to confusion. Add a good dose of ‘You’re not from round these parts’ suspicion, the difficulties of getting around the terrain in winter, and the shenanigans of countrymen, (for womenfolk barely put in an appearance), and you’re bound to get events spiralling out of control into broad farce with sinister overtones.

Brilliant – I must read all his others.  (10/10)
I bought this book. 

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All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills

 P.S. Don’t forget my blogiversary giveaway – see the previous post.

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