I finished Mayday, by Adam Wilson, earlier today, and all I can say is that if you didn't get enough things to read for Christmas, this is a great way to treat yourself.
Meet the Global International Liberation Army, Britain's least dangerous terrorist threat. They talk tough, but behind their codenames and passwords its operatives are bored salesmen and hairdressers seeking escape from their everyday lives. Every week at their secret hideout they plot to overthrow the government… just as soon as they've finished their cups of tea and written a few poems about how rebellious they're being. Inept shelf-stacker Simon Corinth, their newest recruit, fits in perfectly, and agrees to travel with them to London for a May Day protest march. But he soon discovers that GILA has a dark secret, and suddenly finds himself running for his life, ruthlessly hunted by a murderous conspiracy. Who wants them dead, and why? With danger closing in on all sides, Simon knows he'll need more than slogans and sandwiches if he wants to survive the terrifying and bloody plans his unseen enemy has for May Day.
Let's start with a couple of slight downers to get them out of the way. Adam wrote this several years ago, and has published it himself. In places, both of those things show through. Not only could the manuscript probably have done with someone else proofreading it, but there are also a few traits that tend to get phased out as writers do more (a lot of suddenlys, a small obsession with the colon, and a few other bits and pieces). Add to that a couple of moments where things didn't quite work (the villain feels a little two dimensional, for example, and the end risks spiralling off into ordinary thriller territory for a few pages before Adam pulls it back into something with more depth) and you might be forgiven for thinking that I didn't enjoy this.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I found myself engrossed by this story of ordinary, slightly sad people sneaking around knowing that they aren't quite the revolutionaries they hoped to be and then getting caught up in things far more dangerous than they ever could have dreamed of. I loved the depth to most of them (even the aforementioned villain only comes across as 2D by comparision) and the beautiful eye for detail that lets Adam pick apart the absurdity of their lives even while placing them in mortal danger.
Yes, I said absurdity. That's not something I would normally expect from Adam, but this manages to mix in a streak of understated humour that lends just the perfect edge to everything else. Then there's the plot. Normally, people who go for a lot of twists and turns have trouble controlling things, but Adam's skill here is in throwing things together and still making it all seem coherent as he builds in layers of meaning. Yes, he pulls one or two slightly hackneyed devices, but even those are given the sort of secondary levels that let them work brilliantly.
It's that sense of a lot of different layers that makes this such a great read. Yes, you could read it as a fairly normal sort of thriller, but it also manages to make fun of a few thriller type cliches, has the time for some serious commentary on our responses to terror, plays with a fun selection of fairly deluded anarchists, weaves in a not-quite-love story, and still has time for a rather touching tale of someone forced to face up to realities he wouldn't have gone near had he not followed the wrong girl into a bookshop.
I think the best thing I can say about Mayday is this: after a while, I forgot who had written it and just started loving it. I'll certainly be reading it again.