One plenty damn fine book, really. Harding's work is funny in the right places, has great characters, knows its Shakespeare, and while addressing certain implications of modern society (and going a bit overboard near the final chapters) it takes itself just seriously enough. Even though I had to read it in chunks over a few weeks (this was the book I left behind when I read Neverwhere), One Big Damn Puzzler is one of my better secondhand bookshop acquisitions of late.
But I've got a small bone to pick. Harding is a British author (I can't be more specific, as his book bio and my cursory Internet research turned up nothing) whose main character in the book is an American, and the South Pacific island where this character spends most of the book was, shall we say, graced by the American military in the past. And that's all well and good. But if you're going to write about a culture that's not your own, and especially if what you write will be available in said culture, you ought to keep an eye on where you're stepping. That said, here are my first* Tips for British Authors Writing About Americans:
- Watch your word usage. We don't call them "trousers." We call them "pants." There's a reason we distinguish between "American English" and "British English."
- Be careful portraying the Americans as a negative foreign influence on an indigenous population. (I'm looking at you, John Harding.) Yes, we've been guilty of that, probably to a terrifying degree. But suggesting that the British simply wanted to build a hotel and leave the natives in peace kind of ignores a certain long imperial history with a few "whoopsie-daisies" of its own.
*In time, I'm sure there will be more.