The Life Assistance Agency by Thomas Hocknell. Book Review
Ben Ferguson-Cripps, is a struggling writer with a capital ‘S’. He’s really feeling the strain of someone whose agent is busy trying to offload them. So when Ben gets a chance to pay off some of his mounting bills he agrees to work for the Life Assistance Agency. But it is a very different kind of detective work, because their first job is finding a missing person who is currently being pursued by a clandestine organisation with links to the buried secrets of Dr John Dee, intellectual, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and angel-communicator. Suddenly Ben finds himself in a headlong pursuit through Europe to the ancient city of Prague.
The cleverly conceived book cover with its hastily scrawled title and amateurish looking business cards pasted to it with an ancient wax seal, kind of gives you the heads up on what to expect from The Life Assistance Agency.
Think The Da Vinci Code on a budget and deliberately funny, very funny. That Ben has the pretentious surname of Ferguson-Cripps foist on him by his rather eccentric mother speaks volumes for how much of a constant battle Ben wages with what life throws at him. Only someone like Ben and his double-barrelled surname could get embroiled with a detective agency with one of the dodgiest monikers ever conceived and a head gumshoe, Scott Wildblood, whose approach to the detective business makes Del Boy look as if he attended Harvard Business School. In short Thomas Hocknell has managed to craft a couple of protagonists who are hugely likeable on account of their virtual ineptitude, which is often offset with bouts of inspired ‘little grey cell’ activity. Ben’ acerbic and detailed observations on life add to the enjoyment of this romp.
That is not to say that the author neglects the action, which at times gets frenetic. This in itself remains realistic, so that even though Ben and Scott are managing to largely avoid the secret society pursuing them, it is in a rather clapped out car and not through the type of pursuit you need to hire a team of Hollywood stuntmen for. The whole plot gradually begins to gather apace as the two make their way across Europe to John Dee’s motherlode.
The historic extracts from the journal of Dee’s wife work well, particularly because the modern idioms which might slip in to it from time to time can be blamed on translator Ronnie, who sends them through in e-mailed instalments.
It is to be hoped that this is not the last we’ve heard of the Life Assistance Agency and that they continue to get embroiled in adventures which constantly threaten to exceed their capabilities.
The Life Assistance Agency was courtesy of Urbane Publications