Potboiler - Jesse Kellerman
Arthur Pfefferkorn is college professor who always dreamed of a writing career. His estranged best friend, famed thriller writer William de Vallee, seemed to live the life Pfefferkorn always wanted, even marrying Arthur’s sweetheart. When Bill is presumed dead at sea, Pfefferkorn seizes the chance to reconnect with his lost love, and possibly restart his career as well. When Arthur passes off his best friend’s unfinished novel as his own, he learns that being a blockbuster author comes at a cost.

The beginning of Potboiler is mostly a character study, with few hints to the absurdist later half. Much of the first half explores the relationship between Pfefferkorn and Bill, and Pfefferkorn’s rekindled relationship with Bill’s wife, Carlotta. This section is fairly realistic, save for the occasional reference to conflict in the region of Zlabia, and some improbably shaped food.

The novel switches to an absurdist spy pastiche when Pfefferkorn learns that nearly everyone in his life is part of a secret literary spy ring. Blockbuster novels are revealed to contain secret codes, and are suggested to be so formulaic that they may be generated by computer.

When Carlotta is kidnapped, Pfefferkorn must travel himself as a spy to West Zlabia, depicted as a backwards former Eastern Bloc nation filled with goats and root vegetables. This half of the novel focuses on absurd and improbable plot twists. Many of the jokes are actually laugh-out-loud funny, although the cliche goats and turnips Ruritania jokes get a bit stale.

Potboiler makes for a well-written and often genuinely funny read. It’s a bit uneven, but certainly enjoyable and definitely worth a try.

A review copy was provided through the Librarything Early Reviewers program.