The Singer’s Gun
by Emily St. John Mandel
All his life, Anton Waker just wanted a normal job. You know, something 9 to 5, maybe some sort of executive at an office. Now he’s working as a manager at a water system consulting firm, but his checkered past has caught up with him. You see, Anton once sold counterfeit passports and Social Security cards with his cousin Aria, and even though he’s left their business behind she wants him to do just one last favor. Aria needs him to deliver a package while he’s on his honeymoon in Europe; if Anton refuses, she’ll tell his new bride about their family’s illegal activities. The situation deteriorates further when Aria’s associate doesn’t arrive to pick up the package when scheduled; Anton must stay on the island Ischia beyond the planned honeymoon dates. His furious bride storms off, leaving Anton alone on the island to contemplate his life and the choices he made to arrive in his current predicament.
Why can’t more mystery/thrillers be written like this, with attention paid both to plot and style? There’s no formulaic, trite prose worthy of Dan Brown or James Patterson here. Mandel’s words have a lyrical breeziness to them that match the rhythms of Anton’s island lifestyle, but with an edgy darkness that never lets the reader completely relax. Not only was I into the story, at times I could hardly put the book down.
It helped that the characters were so interesting. I mean, Anton is not a particularly good guy. He pretended to graduate from a college he never even attended. He sold false documents to illegal immigrants. He cheats on his fiancée, and after they’re married he ditches her on their honeymoon. He comes from a family of liars, swindlers and thieves. But he doesn’t want to become an evil crime lord; he just wants out of the shadow world, even if it means disappointing his family. When something as simple and humdrum as that eludes him, you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy, especially when he’s betrayed again and again by the people he’s closest to.
I really, really liked this novel. Many different story elements are woven together quite tightly, so a lot of little details – like, why the title The Singer’s Gun? – aren’t explained until you’re more than halfway in. It kept things interesting without becoming extremely predictable. This is an unusual choice of reading for me, and it’s one of the better books I’ve come across this year.
4 out of 5 stars