Fiction Pick of the Week

30 April 2011

Former journalist turned writer Ed O’Loughlin’s first novel, Not Untrue and Unkind, was an acrid satire on foreign reporters and aid workers in Africa that was long-listed for the Booker. Top Loader stays with satire, but cranks up the genre-meter a few more notches. It’s set in the Embargoed Zone, a walled-off community (with resemblances to Gaza) aimed at containing terrorists and their families. Not everyone in the EZ is a terrorist, obviously – though tell that to the unmanned drones and trigger-happy US soldiers keeping a lid on the place. The Byzantine action begins with Agent Cobra, a corrupt undercover spy. His handler – the US Captain Smith – can’t cough up the dough for his latest assignment, so offers a washing machine. It’s a pay cheque that will put good guys and bad into a merciless spin cycle. O’Loughlin weaves an absurd black comedy from a desperate situation, and his treatment of the US military will almost certainly remind you of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.