Losses adjusted

18 03 2017

Armadillo by William Boyd

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Lorimer Black may suffer from a serious sleep disorder and an obsession with the labyrinths of the British class system, but  Armadillo’s peculiar protagonist is the star insurance adjuster of London’s Fortress Sure PLC, unaffectionately known as “the Fort”. At the very start of William Boyd’s noirish 7th novel, however, things take a decided swerve for the worse. On a bleak January morning one of his cases has apparently chosen to kill himself rather than talk: “Mr. Dupree was simultaneously the first dead person he had encountered in his life, his first suicide and his first hanged man and Lorimer found this congruence of firsts deceptively troubling.”

Soon our hero, who himself has a lot to hide, finds himself threatened by a dodgy type whose loss he has adjusted way down and embroiled with the beautiful married actress Flavia Malinverno. “People who’ve lost something, they call on you to adjust it, make the loss less hard to bear? As if their lives are broken in some way and they call on you to fix it,” Flavia dippily wonders. Lorimer also has his car torched and instantly goes from an object of affection to one of deep suspicion at the Fort. Then there is another case, the small matter of the rock star who may or may not be faking the Devil he says is sitting on his left shoulder.

Needless to say, Lorimer is “becoming fed up with this role of fall guy for other people’s woes.” Boyd adds a deep layer of psychological heft and a lighter level of humour to this thinking-person’s thriller by exploring Lorimer’s manifold personal and social fears. This is a man who desperately collects ancient helmets even though he knows they offer only “the illusion of protection.” Another of Armadillo’s many pleasures: its dose of delicious argot. Should Lorimer “oil” the apparent perpetrator of the Fedora Palace arson before he’s oiled himself? Or perhaps he just needs to “put the frighteners” on him. Boyd definitely puts the frighteners on his readers more than once in this cinematically seedy and dazzling literary display.

Darkness, death and lots of dodgy goings on. It’s a good effort from Boyd but perhaps not quite what it should be. Enjoyable enough though.

 

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