One Big Damn Puzzler. The title says it all doesn’t? It’s got mod all over it. You know you are in for a circus of eccentric characters with some sort of bad government or evil billionaire or organization that secretly rules everyone’s lives hidden away at the center of the storyline and by the end of the novel Aunt Betty’s goat has been reunited with his childhood friend chicken (who barks) and Dimitri the bus driver/Greek immigrant has had his musical based on the life of Woodrow Wilson produced---and it’s a hit! The thought of it makes me wince tiredly.
But guess what? I was right and I was wrong.
This novel by John Harding is a circus of eccentrics and it does have bad government at its heart but I am happy to say that the likes of the goat, chicken and Dimitri do not materialize and therefore neither does my tiredness. Instead One Big Damn Puzzler is a rambunctious but controlled adventure with a great deal of wit.
On an island paradise in the South Pacific, American lawyer William Hart has arrived. He has decided that the islanders are owed reparations from the U.S. government. The British had beat the Americans to the island and left behind pigs that now ruled the jungle, unfinished buildings, the English language and Shakespeare. The Americans hadn’t been such benign tourists. They left behind guns, land mines and a taste for soda. The island culture that resulted from natural development, the British and the Americans is unique. The evolution of the islanders could alter dramatically once again based on Hart’s law suit and would that be a good thing?
As Hart gets to know the island and its’ citizens author Harding keeps everything broad but still human. By doing this Harding saves One Big Damned Puzzler from being pure farce. His creation of the islands’ history has enough reality to be accepted as possible so that when he places his peculiar characters within it their behavior and lookout become on one level a natural progression of their historical experience.
I did enjoy One Big Damn Puzzler. Occasionally Harding seems a little too eager to point how amusing he can be but that is a minor complaint. This novel is a clever, well imagined look at a trampled over society that survived anyway.