If HG Wells, Dave Barry and Jasper Fforde had a child, it would be Sam Leith. Refreshingly original and smart, this novel follows multiple points of view ranging from a lovesick youth, a thug with no ability to judge consequences, a mastermind with a cutting sense of humor and an agent with a troubled past.
It begins with the unlikely incident of a hurricane assembling an airplane out of scrap metal. This tips off the secret agency, the Department of the Extremely Improbable, that something is afoot. It seems a coincidence engine, a machine that bends the psychics of chance and will, is on the move and a number of forces want to capture it. The hunt is on, though no one quite knows what they are looking for. It’s an adventure for the well-drawn characters as well as the reader.
Part steam-punk, part road trip, part comedy of errors, The Coincidence Engine is entirely readable. The language is rich and swirling and, thankfully, very British. Too often American publications include a stripping of dialectic idioms. I love how eccentric the writing is allowed to be.
Here’s an example:
“Herbert Owse’s Antiquarian Omnium Gatherum stood on Burleigh Street, and was manned by a rubicund numismatist with a wild beard and a liking for checking shirts and moleskin waistcoats. His socks, though this is of scant relevance here, were held up with suspenders. His name was not Herbert Owse.”
Leith finds an admirable balance between silliness and poignancy in his debut novel. Witty, urbane and comic, I look forward to reading Sam Leith in the future.