Guns, Gangsters and…..Gourmets? Well colour me intrigued because one of those things doesn’t fit with the others!
As anyone who has followed The Shelf for a while will probably have realised, I’m more Murder at the Vicarage than The Sopranos in my reading tastes – give me tea and cake with the vicar (and a body in the library) over bloodthirsty mafia dons any day. So when the chance to take part in the blog tour for The Meal of Fortune arose, I’ll admit that was initially prepared to give it a miss. But Gourmets? Now that is different! What the heck has cooking got to do with gangsters?
Well, quite a lot in this novel as it turns out! Failing celebrity agent Dermot Jack has one client – lecherous daytime TV chef Marcus Diesel. But Dermot’s luck might just have turned when Marcus’ number one fan, a mysterious Russian oligarch, hires him to represent his wannabe pop star daughter. Disaffected MI5 officer Anna Preston is just as happy to be handed the chance to resurrect her own career, even if it means crossing paths with Dermot seventeen years after he definitely didn’t break her heart. Add in a diminutive mafia enforcer who definitely has his own agenda, a very impatient loan shark who ‘just wants his money back’ and a pony called Nugget (who, in many ways, could be said to have started the whole thing), and one thing’s for sure. There’ll be winners and losers when the Meal of Fortune finally stops spinning. Oh, and another thing. Anna and Dermot are absolutely NOT about to fall in love again. OK?
As you can probably tell from the above, this is a gangster novel with it’s tongue firmly in its cheek throughout. With a cast of larger than life characters, a series of ever more ludicrous situations and a serious clash between celebrity culture and the mafia intrigue, it’s one of those novels that really just shouldn’t work. But it does and the results are very funny indeed, with just a hint of menace behind the smile the novel wears.
Dermot Jack is, in all honesty, a bit of a louse. Embittered and down on his luck when the novel starts, he’s a man who seems destined to forever make the wrong choices – even if they are sometimes for the right reasons. Anna Preston is a maverick consigned to a desk job because of one little mistake. All of the characters in this novel are, in their own special way, a little bit messed up. And life isn’t going quite how it should for any of them. Throw them all together and it’s a recipe for disaster – and comedic value! On an individual level it’s difficult to warm to the individual characters at times but as an ensemble cast they really work well together and the dialogue is cracking – fast, sharp and with just the right amount of acid to add some sarcasm to proceedings.
The same goes for the plot. From the surprisingly cutthroat world of daytime TV to backstage at Eurovision, via car chases, tracking devices and a short trip to a Russian mafia holding cell, it’s non-stop from the off and with just the right level of genuine menace to stop the caper from becoming a farce. The characters may be crazy but they all have their motivations and it’s the clever interweaving and revealing of these that makes the 350 pages fly.
In summary, The Meal of Fortune reminded me a lot of the film ‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’ with it’s black humour, multiple plot strands and ever increasing daftness. But, like ‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’, it all hangs together seamlessly. The result is a darkly humorous comic novel in the vein of Christopher Brookmyre (One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night springs to mind) or John Niven(The Sunshine Cruise Company) but with it’s own unique flavour. Fans of comic novels should definitely check this out, as should anyone who enjoys their gangsters with just a dash of gourmet style!
The Meal of Fortune by Phil Brady is published by Unbound and is available now from all good booksellers including Unbound, Hive, Waterstones and Amazon. My thanks go to Anne Cater for organising the blog tour and to the author for providing an advance copy of the book in return for a honest and unbiased feature.
The blog tour continues through to 10 March so please check out the other stops below: