TIGERMAN by NICK HARKAWAY
HB, 372 pages, Random House
Please be aware that this review may contain spoilers.
(Disclaimer – I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads)
There is a whiff or two of J G Ballard around Tigerman. The doomed island of Mancreu, poisoned by man-made toxic belches triggered by seismic activity, but condemned to final fiery death by the UN, could have come straight from Ballard with its crumbling colonial houses deserted by the Leavers, and the tight cast of island characters who haven’t yet made the departure. The hero of the story, the Man Who Would Be Tigerman, is Lester Ferris, army sergeant, not quite forty and not quite washed up. He has been posted to Mancreu as the last British representative of a colony the Empire has all but washed its hands of, and it’s here the lonely Ferris meets a boy (known only as “the boy”).
The boy and the sergeant make an unlikely team. The boy is quick-moving, quick-talking, his rapid patios informed by TV and the Internet and the comic books he collects. He is, in his own words “onehunnredtenpercent full of win!” and Ferris has tentative plans to adopt him, to take him away before the island is consumed by fire, to give him a chance at life. But Mancreu is beginning to fall apart, and when a friend his is gunned down in front of them, the boy and the sergeant form the most unlikely super-hero duo to track down the killers.
It’s unusual that I’m reviewing Tigerman on here because it contains, as the author himself said, “only homeopathic amounts of SF”. It’s not strictly an SF novel (and if you approach it thinking it might be you could be disappointed); instead it’s a dystopian thriller with SF / superhero undertones, but clearly written by someone with a deep and abiding love of the genre. There are nods to Back To The Future, The Incredible Hulk, Transmetropolitan, the list goes on…
But the story goes deeper, deeper than a story of a man styling himself as a superhero to take revenge on his friends killers. It’s a story that touches on the awkward, fumbling relationships between fathers and sons (mirrored in Lester’s own childhood relationship with his widowed father), where “Let’s be superheroes!” is an unspoken “I love you, I want to protect you”. It makes the eventual fracturing of the relationship between Lester and the boy even more heartbreaking; the persona of Tigerman coming between them as Mancreu burns, even as it brings them together.
Initially I gave this book four stars, as it takes a while to get going, as Lester potters around Mancreu meeting a host of island characters, the Japanese scientist Kaiko Inoue, responsible for monitoring the tectonic shifts that cause the island to discharge clouds of toxic gas, Jed Kershaw, the American rep on the island, Pechorin, Ukrainian fish-thief and possible drug runner, and the Black Fleet, the quasi-legal flotilla doing a variety of illegal things out in the bay, where international law no longer reaches. However, on reflection, I found the book had burrowed deeper into my psyche than I was expecting, leaving me ruminating over its themes and its sudden shocking dual-climax, and I’m going to bump it up to five stars. Tigerman is a superb book, full of heart and compassion. Full of win.