The Gun Seller

The Gun Seller

by Hugh Laurie


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Hugh Laurie concocts an uproarious cocktail of comic zingers and over-the-top action in this "ripping spoof of the spy genre" (Vanity Fair) — the irresistible tale of a former Scots Guard-turned-hired gun, a freelance soldier of fortune who also happens to be one heck of a nice guy.
Cold-blooded murder just isn't Thomas Lang's cup of tea. Offered a bundle to assassinate an American industrialist, he opts to warn the intended victim instead — a good deed that soon takes a bad turn. Quicker than he can down a shot of his favorite whiskey, Lang is bashing heads with a Buddha statue, matching wits with evil billionaires, and putting his life (among other things) in the hands of a bevy of femmes fatales. Up against rogue CIA agents, wannabe terrorists, and an arms dealer looking to make a high-tech killing, Lang's out to save the leggy lady he has come to love...and prevent an international bloodbath to boot.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671020828
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: 10/01/1998
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 268,556
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.95(d)

About the Author

Hugh Laurie has cowritten two comedy series for BBC television,
A Bit of Fry and Laurie. He has also acted in the television dramas Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster as well as in the feature films 101 Dalmatians, Sense and Sensibility, and Peter's Friends. He lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

I saw a man this morning
Who did not wish to die;

P. S. Stewart

Imagine that you have to break someone's arm.

Right or left, doesn't matter. The point is that you have to break it, because if you don't...well, that doesn't matter either. Let's just say bad things will happen if you don't.

Now, my question goes like this: do you break the arm quickly — snap, whoops, sorry, here let me help you with that improvised splint — or do you drag the whole business out for a good eight minutes, every now and then increasing the pressure in the tiniest of increments, until the pain becomes pink and green and hot and cold and altogether howlingly unbearable?

Well exactly. Of course. The right thing to do, the only thing to do, is to get it over with as quickly as possible. Break the arm, ply the brandy, be a good citizen. There can be no other answer.


Unless unless unless.

What if you were to hate the person on the other end of the arm? I mean really, really hate them.

This was a thing I now had to consider.

I say now, meaning then, meaning the moment I am describing; the moment fractionally, oh so bloody fractionally, before my wrist reached the back of my neck and my left humerus broke into at least two, very possibly more, floppily joined-together pieces.

The arm we've been discussing, you see, is mine. It's not an abstract, philosopher's arm. The bone, the skin, the hairs, the small white scar on the point of the elbow, won from the corner of a storage heater at Gateshill Primary School — they all belong to me. And now is the moment when I must consider the possibility that the man standing behind me, gripping my wrist and driving it up my spine with an almost sexual degree of care, hates me. I mean, really, really hates me.

He is taking for ever.

His name was Rayner. First name unknown. By me, at any rate, and therefore, presumably, by you too.

I suppose someone, somewhere, must have known his first name — must have baptised him with it, called him down to breakfast with it, taught him how to spell it — and someone else must have shouted it across a bar with an offer of a drink, or murmured it during sex, or written it in a box on a life insurance application form. I know they must have done all these things. Just hard to picture, that's all.

Rayner, I estimated, was ten years older than me. Which was fine. Nothing wrong with that. I have good, warm, non-arm-breaking relationships with plenty of people who are ten years older than me. People who are ten years older than me are, by and large, admirable. But Rayner was also three inches taller than me, four stones heavier, and at least eight however-you-measure-violence units more violent. He was uglier than a car park, with a big, hairless skull that dipped and bulged like a balloon full of spanners, and his flattened, fighter's nose, apparently drawn on his face by someone using their left hand, or perhaps even their left foot, spread out in a meandering, lopsided delta under the rough slab of his forehead.

And God Almighty, what a forehead. Bricks, knives, bottles and reasoned arguments had, in their time, bounced harmlessly off this massive frontal plane, leaving only the feeblest indentations between its deep, widely-spaced pores. They were, I think, the deepest and most widely-spaced pores I have ever seen in human skin, so that I found myself thinking back to the council putting-green in Dalbeattie, at the end of the long, dry summer of '76.

Moving now to the side elevation, we find that Rayner's ears had, long ago, been bitten off and spat back on to the side of his head, because the left one was definitely upside down, or inside out, or something that made you stare at it for a long time before thinking 'oh, it's an ear'.

And on top of all this, in case you hadn't got the message, Rayner wore a black leather jacket over a black polo-neck.

But of course you would have got the message. Rayner could have swathed himself in shimmering silk and put an orchid behind each ear, and nervous passers-by would still have paid him money first and wondered afterwards whether they had owed him any.

As it happened, I didn't owe him money. Rayner belonged to that select group of people to whom I didn't owe anything at all, and if things had been going a little better between us, I might have suggested that he and his fellows have a special tie struck, to signify membership. A motif of crossed paths, perhaps.

But, as I said, things weren't going well between us.

A one-armed combat instructor called Cliff (yes, I know — he taught unarmed combat, and he only had one arm — very occasionally life is like that) once told me that pain was a thing you did to yourself. Other people did things to you — they hit you, or stabbed you, or tried to break your arm — but
pain was of your own making. Therefore, said Cliff, who had spent a fortnight in Japan and so felt entitled to unload dogshit of this sort on his eager charges, it was always within your power to stop your own pain. Cliff was killed in a pub brawl three months later by a fifty-five-year-old widow, so I don't suppose I'll ever have a chance to set him straight.

Pain is an event. It happens to you, and you deal with it in whatever way you can.

The only thing in my favour was that, so far, I hadn't made any noise.

Nothing to do with bravery, you understand, I simply hadn't got round to it. Up until this moment, Rayner and I had been pinging off the walls and furniture in a sweatily male silence, with only the occasional grunt to show that we were both still concentrating. But now, with not much more than five seconds to go before I passed out or the bone finally gave way — now was the ideal moment to introduce a new element. And sound was all I could think of.

So I inhaled deeply through my nose, straightened up to get as close as I could to his face, held the breath for a moment, and then let out what Japanese martial artists refer to as a kiai — you'd probably call it a very loud noise, and that wouldn't be so far off — a scream of such blinding, shocking, what-the-fuck-was-that intensity, that I frightened myself quite badly.

On Rayner, the effect was pretty much as advertised, because he shifted involuntarily to one side, easing the grip on my arm for about a twelfth of a second. I threw my head back into his face as hard as I could, feeling the gristle in his nose adjust itself around the shape of my skull and a silky wetness spreading across my scalp, then brought my heel up towards his groin, scraping the inside of his thigh before connecting with an impressive bundle of genitalia. By the time the twelfth of a second had elapsed, Rayner was no longer breaking my arm, and I was aware, suddenly, of being drenched in sweat.

I backed away from him, dancing on my toes like a very old St. Bernard, and looked around for a weapon.

The venue for this pro-am contest of one fifteen-minute round was a small, inelegantly furnished sitting-room in Belgravia. The interior designer had done a perfectly horrible job, as all interior designers do, every single time, without fail, no exceptions — but at that moment his or her liking for heavy, portable objets happened to coincide with mine. I selected an eighteen-inch Buddha from the mantelpiece with my good arm, and found that the little fellow's ears afforded a satisfyingly snug grip for the one-handed player.

Rayner was kneeling now, vomiting on a Chinese carpet and improving its colour no end. I chose my spot, braced myself, and swung at him back-handed, plugging the corner of the Buddha's plinth into the soft space behind his left ear, There was a dull, flat noise, of the kind that only human tissue under attack can make, and he rolled over on to his side.

I didn't bother to see whether he was still alive. Callous, perhaps, but there you go.

I wiped some of the sweat from my face and walked through into the hall. I tried to listen, but if there was any sound from the house or from the street outside I would never have heard it, because my heart was going like a road drill. Or perhaps there really was a road drill outside. I was too busy sucking in great suitcase-sized chunks of air to notice.

I opened the front door and immediately felt cool drizzle on my face. It mingled with the sweat, diluting it, diluting the pain in my arm, diluting everything, and I closed my eyes and let it fall. It was one of the nicest things I've ever experienced. You may say that it's a pretty poor life I've been leading. But then, you see, context is everything.

I left the door on the latch, stepped down on to the pavement and lit a cigarette. Gradually, grumpily, my heart sorted itself out, and my breathing followed at a distance. The pain in my arm was terrible, and I knew it would be with me for days, if not weeks, but at least it wasn't my smoking arm.

I went back into the house and saw that Rayner was where I'd left him, lying in a pool of vomit. He was dead, or he was grievously-bodily-harmed, either of which meant at least five years. Ten, with time added on for bad behaviour. And this, from my point of view, was bad.

I've been in prison, you see. Only three weeks, and only on remand, but when you've had to play chess twice a day with a monosyllabic West Ham supporter, who has 'HATE' tattooed on one hand, and 'HATE' on the other — using a set missing six pawns, all the rooks and two of the bishops — you find yourself cherishing the little things in life. Like not being in prison.

I was contemplating these and related matters, and starting to think of all the hot countries I'd never got around to visiting, when I realised that that noise — that soft, creaking, shuffling, scraping noise — was definitely not coming from my heart. Nor from my lungs, nor from any other part of my yelping body. That noise was definitely external.

Someone, or something, was making an utterly hopeless job of coming down the stairs quietly.

I left the Buddha where it was, picked up a hideous alabaster table lighter and moved towards the door, which was also hideous. How can one make a hideous door? you may ask. Well, it takes some doing, certainly, but believe me, the top interior designers can knock off this kind of thing before breakfast.

I tried to hold my breath and couldn't, so I waited noisily. A light switch flicked on somewhere, waited, then flicked off. A door opened, pause, nothing there either, closed. Stand still. Think. Try the sitting-room.

There was a rustle of clothing, a soft footfall, and then suddenly I found I was relaxing my grip on the alabaster lighter, and leaning back against the wall in something close to relief. Because even in my frightened, wounded state, I was ready to stake my life on the fact that Nina Ricci's Fleur de Fleurs is just not a fighting scent.

She stopped in the doorway and looked around the room. The lights were out, but the curtains were wide open and there was plenty of light coming in from the street.

I waited until her gaze fell on Rayner's body before I put my hand over her mouth.

We went through all the usual exchanges dictated by Hollywood and polite society. She tried to scream and bite the palm of my hand, and I told her to be quiet because I wasn't going to hurt her unless she shouted. She shouted and I hurt her. Pretty standard stuff, really.

By and by she was sitting on the hideous sofa with half a pint of what I thought was brandy but turned out to be Calvados, and I was standing by the door wearing my smartest and best 'I am psychiatrically A1' expression.

I'd rolled Rayner on to his side, into a kind of recovery position, to stop him from choking on his own vomit. Or anyone else's, if it came to that. She'd wanted to get up and fiddle with him, to see if he was all right — pillows, damp cloths, bandages, all the things that help to make the bystander feel better — but I told her to stay where she was because I'd already called an ambulance, and all in all it would be better to leave him alone.

She had started to tremble slightly. It started in the hands, as they clutched the glass, then moved to her elbows and up to her shoulders, and it got worse every time she looked at Rayner. Of course, trembling is probably not an uncommon reaction to discovering a mixture of dead person and vomit on your carpet in the middle of the night, but I didn't want her getting any worse. As I lit a cigarette with the alabaster lighter — and yes, even the flame was hideous — I tried to take in as much information as I could before the Calvados booted her up and she started asking questions.

I could see her face three times in that room: once in a silver-framed photograph on the mantelpiece, with her in Ray Bans, dangling from a ski-lift; once in a huge and terrible oil portrait, done by someone who can't have liked her all that much, hanging by the window; and finally, and definitely the best of all, in a sofa ten feet away.

She couldn't have been more than nineteen, with square shoulders and long brown hair that waved and cheered as it disappeared behind her neck. The high, round cheek-bones implied Orientalness, but that disappeared as soon as you reached her eyes, which were also round, and large, and bright grey. If that makes any sense. She was wearing a red silk dressing-gown, and one elegant slipper with fancy gold thread across the toes. I glanced around the room, but its mate was nowhere to be seen. Maybe she could only afford one.

She cleared some husk from her throat.

'Who is he?' she said.

I think I'd known she was going to be American before she opened her mouth. Too healthy to be anything else. And where do they get those teeth?

'His name was Rayner,' I said, and then realised that this sounded a little thin as an answer, so I thought I'd add something. 'He was a very dangerous man.'


She looked worried by that, and quite right too. It was probably crossing her mind, as it was crossing mine, that if Rayner was dangerous, and I'd killed him, then that, hierarchically-speaking, made me very dangerous.

'Dangerous,' I said again, and watched her closely as she looked away. She seemed to be trembling less, which was good. Or maybe her trembling had just fallen into sync with mine, so I noticed it less.

'Well...what is he doing here?' she said at last. 'What did he want?'

'It's difficult to say.' Difficult for me, at any rate. 'Maybe he was after money, maybe the silver...'

'You mean ... he didn't tell you?' Her voice was suddenly loud. 'You hit this guy, without knowing who he was? What he was doing here?'

Despite the shock, her brain seemed to be coming along pretty nicely.

'I hit him because he was trying to kill me,' I said. 'I'm like that.'

I tried a roguish smile, then caught sight of it in the mirror over the mantelpiece and realised it hadn't worked.

'You're like that,' she repeated, unlovingly. 'And who are you?'

Well now. I was going to have to wear some very soft shoes at this juncture. This was where things could suddenly get a lot worse than they already were.

I tried looking surprised, and perhaps just a little bit hurt.

'You mean you don't recognise me?'


'Huh. Odd. Fincham. James Fincham.' I held out my hand. She didn't take it, so I converted the movement into a nonchalant brush of the hair.

'That's a name,' she said. 'That's not who you are.'

'I'm a friend of your father's.'

She considered this for a moment.

'Business friend?'

'Sort of.'

'Sort of.' She nodded. 'You're James Fincham, you're a sort of business friend of my father's, and you've just killed a man in our house.'

I put my head on one side, and tried to show that yes, sometimes it's an absolute bugger of a world.

She showed her teeth again.

'And that's it, is it? That's your CV?'

I reprised the roguish smile, to no better effect.

'Wait a second,' she said.

She looked at Rayner, then suddenly sat up a little straighter, as if a thought had just struck her.

'You didn't call anybody, did you?'

Come to think of it, all things considered, she must have been nearer twenty-four.

'You mean...' I was floundering now.

'I mean, she said, 'there's no ambulance coming here. Jesus.'

She put the glass down on the carpet by her feet, got up and walked towards the phone.

'Look,' I said, 'before you do anything silly...'

I started to move towards her, but the way she spun round made me realise that staying still was probably the better plan. I didn't want to be pulling bits of telephone receiver out of my face for the next few weeks.

'You stay right there, Mr James Fincham,' she hissed at me. 'There's nothing silly about this. I'm calling an ambulance, and I'm calling the police. This is an internationally approved procedure. Men come round with big sticks and take you away. Nothing silly about it at all.'

'Look,' I said, 'I haven't been entirely straight with you.'

She turned towards me and narrowed her eyes. If you know what I mean by that. Narrowed them horizontally, not vertically. I suppose one should say she shortened her eyes, but nobody ever does.

She narrowed her eyes.

'What the hell do you mean "not entirely straight"? You only told me two things. You mean one of them was a lie?'

She had me on the ropes, there's no question about that. I was in trouble. But then again, she'd only dialled the first nine.

'My name is Fincham,' I said, 'and I do know your father.'

'Yeah, what brand of cigarette does he smoke?'


'Never smoked a cigarette in his life.'

She was late-twenties, possibly. Thirty at a pinch. I took a deep breath while she dialled the second nine.

'All right, I don't know him. But I am trying to help.'

'Right. You've come to fix the shower.'

Third nine. Play the big card.

'Someone is trying to kill him,' I said.

There was a faint click and I could hear somebody, somewhere, asking which service we wanted. Very slowly she turned towards me, holding the receiver away from her face.

'What did you say?'

'Someone is trying to kill your father,' I repeated. 'I don't know who, and I don't know why. But I'm trying to stop them. That's who I am, and that's what I'm doing here.'

She looked at me long and hard. A clock ticked somewhere, hideously.

'This man,' I pointed at Rayner, 'had something to do with it.'

I could see that she thought this unfair, as Rayner was hardly in a position to contradict me; so I softened my tone a little, looking around anxiously as if I was every bit as mystified and fretted-up as she was.

'I can't say he came here to kill,' I said, 'because we didn't get a chance to talk much. But it's not impossible.' She carried on staring at me. The operator was squeaking hellos down the line and probably trying to trace the call.

She waited. For what, I'm not sure.

'Ambulance" she said at last, still looking at me, and then turned away slightly and gave the address. She nodded, and then slowly, very slowly, put the receiver back on its cradle and turned to me. There was one of those pauses that you know is going to be long as soon as it starts, so I shook out another cigarette and offered her the packet.

She came towards me and stopped. She was shorter than she'd looked on the other side of the room. I smiled again, and she took a cigarette from the packet, but didn't light it. She just played with it slowly, and then pointed a pair of grey eyes at me.

I say a pair. I mean her pair. She didn't get a pair of someone else's out from a drawer and point them at me. She pointed her own pair of huge, pale, grey, pale, huge eyes at me. The sort of eyes that can make a grown man talk gibberish to himself. Get a grip, for Christ's sake.

'You're a liar,' she said.

Not angry. Not scared. Just matter-of-fact. You're a liar.

'Well, yes,' I said, 'generally speaking, I am. But at this particular moment, I happen to be telling the truth.'

She kept on staring at my face, the way I sometimes do when I've finished shaving, but she didn't seem to get any more answers than I ever have. Then she blinked once, and the blink seemed to change things somehow. Something had been released, or switched off, or at least turned down a bit. I started to relax.

'Why would anyone want to kill my father?' Her voice was softer now.

'I honestly don't know,' I said. 'I've only just found out he doesn't smoke.'

She pressed straight on, as if she hadn't heard me.

'And tell me Mr Fincham,' she said, 'how you came by all this?'

This was the tricky bit. The really tricky bit. Trickiness cubed.

'Because I was offered the job,' I said.

She stopped breathing. I mean, she actually stopped breathing. And didn't look as if she had any plans to start again in the near future.

I carried on, as calmly as I could.

'Someone offered me a lot of money to kill your father,' I said, and she frowned in disbelief. 'I turned it down.'

I shouldn't have added that. I really shouldn't.

Newton's Third Law of Conversation, if it existed, would hold that every statement implies an equal and opposite statement. To say that I'd turned the offer down raised the possibility that I might not have done. Which was not a thing I wanted floating round the room at this moment. But she started breathing again, so maybe she hadn't noticed.


'Why what?'

Her left eye had a tiny streak of green that went off from the pupil in a north-easterly direction. I stood there, looking into her eyes and trying not to, because I was in terrible trouble at this moment. In lots of ways.

'Why'd you turn it down?'

'Because...' I began, then stopped, because I had to get this absolutely right.


'Because I don't kill people.'

There was a pause while she took this in and swilled it round her mouth a few times. Then she glanced over at Rayner's body.

'I told you,' I said. 'He started it.'

She stared into me for another three hundred years and then, still turning the cigarette slowly between her fingers, moved away towards the sofa, apparently deep in thought.

'Honestly,' I said, trying to get a hold of myself and the situation. 'I'm nice. I give to Oxfam, I recycle newspapers, everything.'

She reached Rayner's body and stopped.

'So when did all this happen?'

'Well...just now,' I stammered, like an idiot.

She closed her eyes for a moment. 'I mean you getting asked.'

'Right,' I said. 'Ten days ago.'



'Holland, right?'

That was a relief. That made me feel a lot better. It's nice to be looked up to by the young every now and then. You don't want it all the time, just every now and then.

'Right,' I said.

'And who was it offered you the job?'

'Never seen him before or since.'

She stooped for the glass, took a sip of Calvados and grimaced at the taste of it.

'And I'm supposed to believe this?'


'I mean, help me out here,' she said, starting to get louder again. She nodded towards Rayner. 'We have a guy here, who isn't going to back up your story, I wouldn't say, and I'm supposed to believe you because of what? Because you have a nice face?'

I couldn't help myself. I should have helped myself, I know, but I just couldn't.

'Why not?' I said, and tried to look charming. 'I'd believe anything you said.'

Terrible mistake. Really terrible. One of the crassest, most ridiculous remarks I've ever made, in a long, ridiculous-remark-packed life.

She turned to me, suddenly very angry.

'You can drop that shit right now.'

'All I meant...' I said, but I was glad when she cut me off, because I honestly didn't know what I'd meant.

'I said drop it. There's a guy dying in here.'

I nodded, guiltily, and we both bowed our heads at Rayner, as if paying our respects. And then she seemed to snap the hymn book shut and move on. Her shoulders relaxed, and she held out the glass to me.

'I'm Sarah,' she said. 'See if you can get me a Coke.'

She did ring the police eventually, and they turned up just as the ambulance crew were scooping Rayner, apparently still breathing, on to a collapsible stretcher. They hummed and harred, and picked things up off the mantelpiece and looked at the underneath, and generally had that air of wanting to be somewhere else.

Policemen, as a rule, don't like to hear of new cases. Not because they're lazy, but because they want, like everyone else, to find a meaning, a connectedness, in the great mess of random unhappiness in which they work. If, in the middle of trying to catch some teenager who's been nicking hub-caps, they're called to the scene of a mass murder, they just can't stop themselves from checking under the sofa to see if there are any hub-caps there. They want to find something that connects to what they've already seen, that will make sense out of the chaos. So they can say to themselves, this happened because that happened. When they don't find it — when all they see is another lot of stuff that has to be written about, and filed, and lost, and found in someone's bottom drawer, and lost again, and eventually chalked up against no one's name — they get, well, disappointed.

They were particularly disappointed by our story. Sarah and I had rehearsed what we thought was a reasonable scenario, and we played three performances of it to officers of ascending rank, finishing up with an appallingly young inspector who said his name was Brock.

Brock sat on the sofa, occasionally glancing at his fingernails, and nodded his youthful way through the story of the intrepid James Fincham, friend of the family, staying in the spare-room on the first floor. Heard noises, crept downstairs to investigate, nasty man in leather jacket and black polo-neck, no never seen him before, fight, fall over, oh my god, hit head. Sarah Woolf, d.o.b. 29th August, 1964, heard sounds of struggle, came down, saw the whole thing. Drink, Inspector? Tea? Ribena?

Yes, of course, the setting helped. If we'd tried the same story in a council flat in Deptford, we'd have been on the floor of the van in seconds, asking fit young men with short hair if they wouldn't mind getting off our heads for a moment while we got comfortable. But in leafy, stuccoed Belgravia, the police are more inclined to believe you than not. I think it's included in the rates.

As we signed our statements, they asked us not to do anything silly like leave the country without informing the local station, and generally encouraged us to abide at every opportunity.

Two hours after he'd tried to break my arm, all that was left of Rayner, first name unknown, was a smell.

I let myself out of the house, and felt the pain creep back to centre stage as I walked. I lit a cigarette and smoked my way down to the corner, where I turned left into a cobbled mews that had once housed horses. It'd have to be an extremely rich horse who could afford to live here now, obviously, but the stabling character of the mews had hung about the place, and that's why it had felt right to tether the bike there. With a bucket of oats and some straw under the back wheel.

The bike was where I'd left it, which sounds like a dull remark, but isn't these days. Among bikers, leaving your machine in a dark place for more than an hour, even with padlock and alarm, and finding it still there when you come back, is something of a talking point. Particularly when the bike is a Kawasaki ZZR 1100.

Now I won't deny that the Japanese were well off-side at Pearl Harbor, and that their ideas on preparing fish for the table are undoubtedly poor — but by golly, they do know some things about making motorcycles. Twist the throttle wide open in any gear on this machine, and it'd push your eyeballs through the back of your head. All right, so maybe that's not a sensation most people are looking for in their choice of personal transport, but since I'd won the bike in a game of backgammon, getting home with an outrageously flukey only-throw 4-1 and three consecutive double sixes, I enjoyed it a lot. It was black, and big, and it allowed even the average rider to visit other galaxies.

I started the motor, revved it loud enough to wake a few fat Belgravian financiers, and set off for Notting Hill. I had to take it easy in the rain, so there was plenty of time for reflection on the night's business.

The one thing that stayed in my mind, as I jinked the bike along the slick, yellow-lit streets, was Sarah telling me to drop 'that shit'. And the reason I had to drop it was because there was a dying man in the room.

Newtonian Conversation, I thought to myself. The implication was that I could have kept on holding that shit, if the room hadn't had a dying man in it.

That cheered me up. I started to think that if I couldn't work things so that one day she and I would be together in a room with no dying men in it at all, then my name isn't James Fincham.

Which, of course, it isn't.

Copyright © 1996 by Hugh Laurie

Reading Group Guide

The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion of Hugh Laurie's The Gun Seller. We hope that these ideas will enrich your discussion and increase your enjoyment of the book. Discussion Questions

  1. Hugh Laurie makes deft comic use of names and nicknames, such as the Carls, Murdah, and the deadly helicopter called "The Graduate." Name some of your favorites.
  2. Who is "the gun seller" of the novel's title?
  3. One reviewer wrote that The Gun Seller is "certainly the first novel to combine The Day of the Jackal with The Code of the Woosters." What other literary or cinematic comparisons does The Gun Seller bring to mind?
  4. To enjoy The Gun Seller, do you think a reader must be familiar with traditional spy novels? Why or why not?
  5. Part of the way through The Gun Seller, Sarah Woolf stops being preceded by the scent of Nina Ricci's Fleur de Fleurs. What might this suggest? Discuss ways the author marks the shifting nature of Thomas Lang's relationship to Sarah.
  6. Discuss how much Solomon knew about Graduate Studies and when he knew it.
  7. Note some of the ways Laurie sends up clichés, for instance: "She turned towards me and narrowed her eyes....Narrowed them horizontally, not vertically."
  8. How has Laurie altered your opinion of Volvos or Fiat Pandas?
  9. According to The Gun Seller, why do diplomats end up with all the world's best real estate?
  10. Lang says that "stepping into an open-top sports car driven by a beautiful woman....feels like you're climbing into a metaphor." How does Laurie get the reader to climb in, buckle up and enjoy the ride in this meta-spy novel?

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Gun Seller 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 96 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hugh Laurie apparently does A LOT of things well, including writing novels. The Gun Seller is chock full of wit, quip, and typical British idiosyncrasies. But more importantly its a great story. Hugh Laurie's writing style simply put, is brilliant. While reading the story, at times, I couldn't help but be reminded of an Andy McNab novel or Jack Higgins novel (which is a good thing). All I can say is that I hope there's another novel to come some day.
JeanClaudeFan More than 1 year ago
I saw this book on the shelf and thought "Really? Hugh Laurie?" so I picked it up just to see. I was please by this book. The main character was smart, acerbic (just the way I like 'em!) and interesting to read. The whole book was a pleasure for me. Thanks Hugh!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book...keeps one going. Hugh Laurie has an easy to read style and lots of great humor, twists, creates wonderful character, keeps one's absolute attention.
Pvt_Baldrick More than 1 year ago
For those of you who are reading this review and are debating on picking this book up, I can only say spend the money and get it. A lot of Americans only know Hugh Laurie as the sullen, drug-addicted, cynical cane-wielding Dr. Gregory House. Most Americans do not, however, know that Hugh Laurie is a hugely popular British comedic genius. Now, I grew up knowing who he was well before his foray into American TV. I grew up watching him in Black Adder, as well as Jeeves and Wooster. When I saw this book sitting on a clearance shelf at a local book store, I had to have it. If he could write even half as well as act, it was sure to be great. To be entirely honest, this book exceeded my expectations. It's full of the dry humor Brits are known for, but also has humor that Americans can laugh at. It doesn't start out slowly building to the humor either. Within the first page, he is describing his character being worked over by a goon and it is literally laughter inducing. His character descriptions are over the top, but completely believable. Oh, and the story isn't lacking for anything either. If Laurie really wanted to, he could have omitted the humor and had a thrilling spy novel. The humor is just the icing on the cake. If you love Hugh Laurie in House, You will love this book. If you love British comedy, you will love this book. If you don't like either, avoid this book. That is the only thing bad I can say. If you are looking for something serious, this is not your book, but who doesn't enjoy a good laugh?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am unbelievably captivated. Cant stop. Addicted
ermb More than 1 year ago
This book is very funny as well as being a white-knuckle thriller. The only negative thing I can say is that Mr. Laurie REALLY needs a good proof reader!
bookappeal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Hugh Laurie (as Bertie Wooster and Dr. Gregory House) and this novel is full of witty one-liners and humorous internal dialogue. Thomas Lang is a hapless former soldier for the British who turns down an offer of significant money to kill a wealthy American in the gun-selling business. Lang feels obligated to warn the intended victim and instead finds himself attracted to the man's daughter and embroiled in a plot of international intrigue and deceit. The storyline is rather confusing and the humor wanes a bit toward the end as a serious resolution is worked out. Similar to Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell but not as gory nor as compelling.
ireed110 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thomas Lang, a man whose real occupation was either not revealed or I can not remember, gets caught up in a multi-national marketing scheme led by arms dealers and corrupt governments.The book suffers for a lack of introduction and back-story on many of the characters. I had trouble keeping all of the players straight, and even as the book drew to a close I found myself rifling back to figure out who was who and what they were up to. I never really understood who Solomon, a major player who apparently shares some history with Lang, really was, who he worked for, and what he was doing there.It's a lot of fun to read a book written by "Dr Gregory House." Though written before the introduction of the popular tv series, you can see bits of Hugh Laurie that come through in each -- his love of motorcycles, the Brit who pulls off a mean American accent, and the acerbic wit. It's a very good first novel with plenty of action, intelligence, and laughs. I would love to read further adventures of Thomas Lang, or anything else that Mr Laurie writes.
miss_read on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hugh Laurie is wonderful. This book, sadly, is anything but.It's a sort of spy action suspense thriller espionage thing, but not a very good one. Laurie is so intent on making the book comic, that any glimmer of plot or character development has been left by the wayside. Yes, it is funnyish:We were heading south down Park Lane in a light blue Licoln-Diplomat, chosen from the thirty identical ones in the embassy car park. It seemed to me a trifle obvious for diplomats to use a car called a Diplomat, but maybe Americans like those sort of signpots. For all I know, the average American insurance salesman drives around in something called a Chevrolet Insurance Salesman.But the fun is non-stop, the humour forced. Every sentence reads like the passage above. At first it was mildly amusing, after 30 pages slightly annoying, and by page 300 I was ready to scream, "Enough!" By not even halfway through the book, I'd lost all track of the storyline. More and more characters were being introduced, with no background or personalities whatsoever. It was impossible for me to follow. I very nearly gave up and put the book down, which is something I've only done once or twice in a lifetime of reading.I love you Mr. Laurie, but please don't give up your day job.
poetontheone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I first became acquainted with Laurie through his titular role on the medical drama House MD. I found out he had written a novel, and though detective/spy fiction isn't usually my thing I just had to read it. It has all the action, twists, and hairy predicaments you'd expect to find, but it is drenched in a tone dry humor that makes you feel like your best pals with the main character. An entertaining page turner that is more than just your average spy novel. Would love to see more writing put out by Laurie.
lmichet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Okay, Laurie is funny. Yes. But he tries too hard to be too serious and ends up shooting himself in the foot. The narrative swings wildly between extreme silliness and extreme seriousness, and the serious bits are often so awkwardly done or unrealistic that they actually bored me. Laurie starts out with an oddly Wodehousian attitude-- Wodehouse doing a spy novel, imagine-- and then veers off harshly into a poorly-realized political thriller which, besides making little to no sense, is so intensely political that it becomes almost sour to read. Add to that the fact that this book was written pre-9-11 and features a strangely (though certainly not wholly) sympathetic look at a pack of terrorists, and the whole setup becomes even more dissonant. He spends the entire book talking about the differences between 'real life' and a spy novel-- his point being that the character, Thomas Lang, is experiencing REAL LIFE, and that his spy-novel expectations are being shattered by the cruel American military-industrial complex-- and then ends the book on a totally outrageous action-hero note involving rocket launchers and Bond-style hero-antics. He's not terribly consistent with his message in that regard, so he comes across as insincere.Not really worth wasting your time one, particularly if you only like Laurie because of House. This has little to no relationship to anything I've ever appreciated Laurie for-- his Jeeves and Wooster show with Fry, as well as A Bit of Fry And Laurie, were both kindhearted and highly entertaining. House, too, is very good. This book is, however, not very well-done, and is a letdown on practically every account. Don't hunt it down.
snat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The only reason I read this book? You guessed it, Hugh Laurie. Anything to which his name is attached is worth a looksee. I'm not typically a fan of spy novels, so I must admit that some of the spoofing was probably lost on me. However, Laurie obviously enjoys the English language and bends and twists it to wit-laced results. As a narrator, Thomas Lang is sarcastic and self-deprecating, but also a genuinely nice guy. He's likable, someone you'd like to go have a drink with just to hear his running commentary on the people and places with which he comes into contact. Some of my favorites included his observation that hiding behind the warehouse walls was not a good idea "since the walls were no more than an inch of Gyproc plaster board, and probably couldn't have stopped a cherry-stone squeezed from the fingers of a tired three-year-old." Also, his philosophical thoughts on the use of the term bird strike: "This, rather unfairly in my view, made it sound as if it was the bird's fault; as if the little feathered chap had deliberately tried to head-butt twenty tons of metal travelling in the opposite direction at just under the speed of sound, out of spite." Amusing and sometimes laugh out loud funny, it's worth the read and will probably most appreciated by people familiar with the spy genre
OodsAteMyDingo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First off, I will admit that I only bought this book because I'm completely off the deep end for Mr. Hugh Laurie. That being said...I was hooked from the first sentence, "Imagine that you have to break someone's arm."The book is -from what I understand- supposed to make fun of Bond type books/movies. And it certainly does it's job. But underneath the amusing take on todays spy circle is a brilliant story about our hero, Thomas Lang.Poor Thomas finds himself in a lot more trouble then he bargined for, and paired with fiesty Sarah Woolf. It's action packed, quick paced, and chalked full of laughs. Well done. Though I would probably borrow it before buying it, it isn't everyone's cup of tea.
imnotsatan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First, a question: Why, oh why, is this book marked as a YA novel? Unless you know some very sketchy young adults, I don't get it.Anyway. The best word to describe this book is "breakneck". The story whips around so quickly that it's hard to tell which end is up. Certain scenes stand out as particularly brilliant- the assassination in particular- but it doesn't escape my notice that the most memorable scenes are the slowest. It's a must for the Hugh Laurie fan, because he writes prose exactly like he writes comedy- that articulate, verbose, Wodehousesque style that's completely charming. All in all, not a bad first effort, and I'm quite anxious for his second.
Meggo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of a British ex-army man who gets involved with the wrong people (one of who is a gun seller, natch). Not a thriller or mystery per se, it is still a well-written, gripping story that became increasingly difficult to put down. Written with a dry (dare I say British?) wit, this was a pleasure to read.
Neilsantos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well this was a scream. It's a little strange because the story isn't a comedy, but the narration is hysterical pretty much from page one. It's amazing how funny Hugh can make terrorism. Also, I congratulate either Hugh or his researchers, every bit of information about small arms in this book is accurate, take that Joe Haldeman!
Darcia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dry humor, witty remarks, and a bit of sarcasm, written in first person by the man we all now know as House. For me, the actual plot - which is sort of a spy thriller; part serious, part satire - was secondary to the writing and the characters. I didn't particularly care what they were doing. I just loved reading his words. His characters are vivid and unique. He has a true gift for writing dialogue and even his narrative sucked me in and held me in place.In all fairness, however, I must admit that the plot was at times convoluted in such a way that it could be difficult to follow. I think, in Laurie¿s effort to bring suspense to the story, he sometimes leaves the reader dangling in the wind. However, the entertainment value of his writing style carried me through any little rough spots in the plot.When I turned the last page, I was sad to say goodbye to the characters. Thomas Lang, Laurie¿s main character, wants to live on in my mind. And, for me, that¿s the mark of a great story.
craso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Someone has tried to hire Thomas Lang to kill an American industrialist, but he is not a killer. He is however, newly retired from the Scots Guard and a freelance soldier of fortune. Lang decides to warn the potential victim and meets his daughter Sarah Wolfe. He can take care of himself in any situation, except ones involving Sarah. Using her big gray eyes and Fleur de Fleurs perfume, she lures him into a convoluted scheme involving the CIA, the British Defense Ministry, a terrorist cell, and a highly advanced military helicopter.I heard in an interview that Hugh Laurie was trying to write a journal, but he thought his life was to boring so he decided to turn it into a spy thriller. I couldn't help but imagine Laurie as the main character. He added things to Lang's personality that he enjoys in his reality; like riding motorcycles. Lang starts off as awkward but becomes more self possessed and in control by the end of the story.This book is a funny take on the spy novel. The characters are what you would expect in a thriller; the feme fatale that draws the hero into trouble, the dependable good girl (he really should be with) the rich foreign financier, and the gung-ho American military man. There are many plot twists, surprises and witty asides. I had a problem with one aspect of the ending (how did the hero get the villain to the roof?) but other than that it was a slam-bang finale.
TheDivineOomba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An enjoyable read - fast paced, interesting characters. A nice mystery/ detective story. Things I liked, Thomas Lang, is a bit of bumbler, he's a detective, but is basically a nice guy. When asked to assassinate an American, he declines, but decides that he should warn the assassination subject. This starts a series of adventures that leave Thomas Shot, beat up, and generally abused. It takes him from the streets of London, to the slopes of Switzerland, then to Morocco. A nice mystery that doesn't take itself too seriously.
GiselleD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As with many of those who have posted reviews here, I pretty much only read this book because it was written by Hugh Laurie. That being said, I was entertained. Enough said.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed The Gun Seller, and while I found some minor inconsistencies, it was indeed entertaining, gripping and moving. I hope to find more of Mr Laurie’s work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A witty, fast paced adventure! Mr. Laurie is certainly blessed with many tslents!
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