A Bright Moon for Fools is the debut novel from the founder of The Poke, Jasper Gibson. It is also one of the early titles from an interesting new publishing house called Inside the Dog Press. The novel takes us into the world of Harry Christmas, a man who has turned to conning and cheating in his old age, forcing him to flee the UK and head to Venezuela once the stepson of one of the women he steals from starts to threaten his life. Harry gets into a variety of scrapes during his escape. He brings disaster, tragedy, and violence into the lives of almost everyone he meets. And as the stepson follows him to Venezuela, this comic novel takes many dark turns that often lead to scenes the squeamish amongst you may have to turn away from. For those who can handle their blood and guts, smashed skulls, and sexual violence, though, this is a very rewarding read.
Harry Christmas is the definite highlight of the novel. He’s a bastard, that much cannot be doubted, but he’s a very funny one. His conning of an Englishwoman living in the country he’s escaped to allows for some hilarious set pieces and some of the funniest sex scenes I’ve ever encountered. His desire to argue with everyone about everything, even when he knows he’s wrong, is reminiscent of so many people in real life that even when it’s farcical it’s believable. And his inability to see what people think of him, especially when it comes to his sexual prowess, is staggeringly funny. But what makes him stand out as one of the most enjoyable characters in contemporary fiction is his more hidden side. Gibson has created a character who is not only a ruthless conman, but also a grieving husband and father. Harry is the mess of a man we encounter in the novel, largely because of this crippling grief. And Gibson brings this across perfectly. Harry’s fleeting memories, the book of his wife’s favourite poems that he carries, and his reasons for choosing Venezuela over anywhere else are touching, redeeming, and very moving.
If there’s a problem with the novel, it’s the representation of Slade, the angered stepson. When the odd chapter slips into his voice, we aren’t presented with the most nuanced character, especially when compared to Harry. Slade is a little too paint-by-numbers evil. He has too many of the traits we associate with evilness, rather than being a unique and individualised bastard in his own right. He’s breathtakingly violent, loves his weapons, and has a sexual obsession with his own relation, who he pretty much stalks. Oh, and he’s a rapist. The only thing that could’ve made him more typically evil was if he’d had a Hitler moustache. Luckily, Slade is enough on the periphery, and Harry Christmas is an intriguing enough character, to mean that this less than impressive portrayal has little negative impact overall. And without Slade, the tension that drives this book would be largely absent.
Any Cop?: A Bright Moon for Fools is up there with the best debut novels of the last decade. That a character can be so instantly dislikeable, and yet you end up not only liking him but being desperate for him to escape unscathed and even shedding a tear for his misfortune, says a lot about the ability of this Derbyshire born writer. If Gibson’s debut is this good, he should be one to keep an eye on for many years to come.