Neil Double is a pirate. Not the shiver-me-timbers kind, not even the illegal downloading kind. No. Double goes to tedious business conferences in place of people who have better things to do. And like all truly evil villains, he even tries to justify his malicious actions by blaming the victim: ‘If [the] events were more interesting, more useful, less time-consuming and less expensive, there would be no need for us.’
Double’s power lies in the fact that he can withstand the tedium, and even enjoy it. He takes pleasure in the minutiae of the whole conference experience and in the allocated hotel in particular, especially if it’s a hotel from the Way Inn group. He’s stayed in many of these all over the world and is a proud loyalty-card carrier. He enjoys the predictability of hotels, the cleanliness and the fact that, every day, everything is reset to where it was before: the bed is made, towels are back on the handrail, the breakfast tables are clean and ready to catch another morning’s crumbs.
Will Wiles lets us enjoy all these particulars as Double sees them:
‘Rejecting branded coffee shops and burger joints, I headed for the main brasserie. In less image-conscious times, this would be called a canteen: big, bright and loud, serving batch-prepared food from stainless-steel basins under long metres of sneezeguard.’
But through all the certainty and uniformity comes chaos. Double is unmasked, exposed as the pernicious pirate he is. His world starts to shift and become, to his great horror, unpredictable. His keycard doesn’t open his room door, the bedside clock makes strange noises and the bus driver refuses to shuttle him to the conference centre. Has everyone and everything suddenly decided to work against him, or is Double losing his mind?
Only one person can help him: a strange red-headed woman who takes photos of the abstract paintings in all the Way Inn hotels in the hope that she can arrange them together and show that they originally came from a single gigantic canvas. She, literally, is trying to see the bigger picture. But she is as elusive as Double’s sanity.
Wiles describes this world so perfectly and precisely that it’s no surprise to learn he’s an architecture and design journalist.
‘Breakfast was served in the restaurant, separated from the lobby by a sliding glazed wall. Flexible space, ready for expansion or division into a large number of different configurations.’
At times, it’s almost like he’s drawing an architectural plan into a work of fiction. That might not sound very interesting, but, at one point, Double has to get to the conference centre across the road, and Wiles manages entertain even though the farcical journey takes more than 40 pages. It was so good, I started to look for some of Wiles’ architectural articles. My only criticism is that the plot occasionally gets lost in all the deftly described detail.
Any Cop?: The Way Inn deserves all the adjectives associated with any good novel: wonderfully well-written, acutely observed, satirical and thought-provoking. After reading this, there’s no doubt you’ll turn to Wiles’ first novel, Care of Wooden Floors, and then seek out anything else he’s penned.