by David C. Mason
John Cranston runs a gardening business and when an old school friend, Martin Ashcombe, invites him for lunch to discuss ‘a proposition’, little does Cranston realise that life as he knows it will never be the same again and he certainly won’t be doing any gardening for a while….
Pandora’s Gardener is part cyber-espionage thriller and part comedy-crime caper. It’s fast-paced, fun and, in parts, quite surreal. The beginning appears to be a fairly linear, old-school gangster style mystery but once Cranston has met Ashcombe, the book hurtles down a rabbit hole of epic proportions. It’s abundantly clear that Mr Mason had a blast writing this novel and, as a reader, I did enjoy it along with him. The humour is funny, very clever in places and relentless to the point that you do miss a few of the jokes. Some of the references may go over younger readers’ heads, James Mason, for example, but the Austin Powers/Kingsman vibe overlaid with a broad brushstroke of Guy Ritchie will certainly appeal to many.
The plot is intentionally tangled and has so many twists that you can get a trifle lost but it doesn’t really spoil your enjoyment and does enhance the comedic value. At times, it does feel as if everything has been thrown into the mix and there really is little point me attempting to describe exactly how the book pans out. Suffice to say, it involves master criminals, Russian henchmen, Cockney gangsters, kidnapped and Ninja accountants, world domination, exploding Churches, wet interfaces (don’t ask) and a small seaside town (among many other elements). Quite how Mr Mason kept track of all the sub-plots and also tied off the loose ends is a Herculean achievement. There were no continuity issues or inconsistencies in the narrative and for sheer inventiveness and imagination, Pandora’s Gardener sweeps the board. However, it is not without issues. Personally, I did find it overlong. It could have done with reining in a little. There were also a few careless grammatical errors in my copy that should take the rating down a notch. However, I found both the book and Mr Mason as a writer so endearing that I will be generous. Also, the majority of the action is set in both the City and East End of London; areas I know incredibly well so, for me, there was a layer of comforting familiarity.
John Cranston ends the novel pretty much as he begins; intriguing, and all the characters are pretty well-realised in a light-hearted, slightly satirical manner which completely befits the story. We also have a connected side angle with Detective Inspector Sutherland and his sidekick Sergeant Bludgeon which was entertaining and, at times, had a slightly more serious edge than the rest of the novel.
Overall, Pandora’s Gardener is an amusing, entertaining and original novel that is well worth a look.