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.