Monday, 27 June 2011

'The Office of Lost and Found' - Vincent Holland-Keen

I was people browsing on twitter one evening when I stumbled upon Vincent Holland-Keen’s profile. A quick look at his profile revealed he had just written a book soon to be published by Anarchy Books. The blurb seemed really interesting and compared itself to Douglas Adam's Dirk Gently. The detective in The Office of Lost and Found whose name is Thomas Locke. This guy can find anything. He even found the butterfly that started that hurricane we all heard about. Apart from fun, it promised a dark and twisted reality where pretty much anything can happen. Armed with my biggest puppy eyes I asked Anarchy Books for a review copy.

“Did you really find the butterfly that started that hurricane?” asked Veronica. “I found a butterfly,” replied Locke, “turned out it had an alibi”.

A man wakes up in a room with nothing but a cat figurine next to him. He does not know who he is. A piece of paper flutters in front of him which reads 'Your name is Thomas Locke. You work for me now.'

That's how the Office of Lost and Found starts. Thomas Locke waking up in a room. At first he thinks he’s alone, but soon discovers his new partner Lafarge is there as well. Lafarge is a mysterious shadow wearing a trenchcoat and a hat. The notes are his way of communicating. They seem to have a life of their own and find Thomas Locke wherever he is. Sometimes they land straight into his hand, or the hand of whoever is their intended recipient. While Thomas Locke has the ability to find anything, Lafarge specializes in losing things.

This book has a different structure than the books I have reviewed previously. It reads more like a collection of novellas than a normal novel. Don't worry though, it all comes together in the end. Every chapter deals with a new case for Thomas Locke. The first chapter introduces us to Veronica Drysdale, a femme fatale who has lost her husband and needs Locke to find him, but only to make sure she managed to kill him. Veronica's husband controlled her utterly. She lacked free will and their marriage was a mockery. Once in control of her own mind, Veronica acted violently and shot her husband. The police are now after her and Thomas Locke is the only one willing to help. It turns out her husband has been selling body snatching insurances. When people die, their bodies are taken over by other spirits. Another chapter deals with a woman has hired Thomas Locke to find her missing husband, Leonard. The poor man has been reincarnated as a toaster, but his place has been taken by a malevolent soul. Together Locke and Veronica embark on a roller coaster ride to set things right.

That's just the beginning of the book. Locke and Veronica have a number of strange cases to solve ahead of them. The cases actually escalate in weirdness and mayhem further into the story. They start out normal enough with helping a young woman to find a man that loves her or Billy, a small boy who has problems with nightmares and monsters under his bed. He comes to The Office of Lost and Found for Locke’s help. The outcome is often unexpected and sometimes not quite what the clients wanted. The same could be said for the plot as well. Unlike other books, there is no grand plan given to us at the start. There is no catch the killer, find the tome, rescue the girl. No, none of that. We’re just asked to follow where the book leads us. There is no map. Vincent Holland-Keen carefully adds another layer to the plot with each chapter. New events are connected to past events, subtly building upon each other.

Most of the time the story is told from the perspective of Veronica. Pretty much every character in the book gets to tell part of the story from their point of view. After reading the blurb I certainly expected Locke to be the one telling the story. My only gripe with The Office of Lost and Found was that sometimes it was a bit difficult to follow what was going on. A lot of events are implied rather than acted out. When the event is of importance I was caught off guard and found myself going back a couple of pages to try and find out when it happened. It does not help that the storyline dabbles with alternative realities and events are not always in chronological order. On a couple of occasions it was like trying to follow a tube map drawn by M.C. Escher.

Holland-Keen has created some really good characters. Thomas Locke is excellent as the bumbling detective. A very likeable guy and I wish we had seen more of him. He does know what he is doing even though it certainly does not seem like that at times. When the storm hits, Thomas Locke is a rock. Veronica is a feisty cynical women with a grudge. She often delivers the one liners or a knee to the balls. Whatever works best for the occasion. You never know what she will do next. She can go from a purring kitty to stone cold killer in a second. Lafarge is also great. Mysterious, powerful and neither Locke nor Victoria know if he can be trusted.

I really enjoyed reading The Office of Lost and Found. It's fun, scary, surprising and bizarre. The book kept surprising me and just when I thought things could not get more weird they did. Vincent Holland-Keen writes like a cocktail of Douglas Adams and A Lee Martinez with a twist of James Herbert. A very solid first novel from Vincent Holland-Keen and I'll have to keep my eyes open for more books from him.

The Office of Lost and Found weighs in at 520 pages and is published by Anarchy Books. July 2011 is the month to look forward to.

Recommedation: read

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