Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Last Orders at Harrods

Last Orders at Harrods by Michael Holman

Set in a slum in a fictional East African country, Last Orders at Harrods is both tongue-in-cheek and deadly serious. Holman puts the novel's diverse players (precocious street urchins, World Bank presidents, and everyone in between) through the paces all the while shedding light on the state of East Africa today.

Nothing good came of Charity Mupanga, the proprietress of Harrods International Bar (and Nightspot), being mentioned in a Financial Times article. Ever since she's been receiving threatening letters from solicitors representing Harrods in London. She seeks help from Edward Furniver, a British expat and head of the local cooperative bank. Furniver's advice only made things worse and now a visit from the solicitor is imminent.

This storyline, from which the novel's title is obviously taken, is but one of the threads that Holman follows in Last Orders at Harrods. There's an outbreak of cholera. A corrupt politician attempts to assure the outcome of an upcoming election. Fiercely-loyal Glue-sniffing pick-pocketing boys roam the streets alternatively causing mayhem for the authorities and providing protection for those individuals they hold in esteem. NGO employees and members of the foreign press ineffectually complete three year stints in the country.

More political than Alexander McCall Smith's No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books, Last Orders at Harrods is similarly episodic and slow-paced. Readers of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books may find Last Orders at Harrods a fascinating companion to them, but they may also be turned off by the distinct pessimism of Holman's novel.

Apparently Last Orders at Harrods, Holman's debut, is the first book in a series. It's follow-up Fatboy and the Dancing Ladies was published in 2007 and a third title is expected in 2010.

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