Book Review: Tigerman

Thursday 5 February 2015 by

Tigerman, Book, Nick Harkaway, Windmill BooksTigerman by Nick Harkaway

Published by Windmill Books

Sergeant Lester Ferris is in need of a rest. He’s spent a lot of his life being shot at. He has no family, he’s nearly forty, burned out and about to be retired.

The island of Mancreu is the perfect place for Lester to serve out his time – and the perfect place for shady business, hence the Black Fleet of illicit ships lurking in the bay: listening stations, money laundering operations and deniable torture centres. None of which should be a problem: Lester’s brief is to turn a blind eye.

But Lester has made a friend: a brilliant, internet-addled street kid with a comic-book fixation who might, Lester hopes, become an adopted son. As Mancreu’s small society tumbles into violence, the boy needs Lester to be more than just an observer. He needs him to be a hero.


I would never have dreamed of picking up Tigerman – despite its delightful brightly splashed cover – if it hadn’t been for overhearing podcast singing its praises.

The book tells the story of Lester Ferris, deposited on a small island to live out the rest of his service in peace. Mancreu is a ruined island – filled with poison and about to explode. Which is what makes it the perfect spot for the shadier dealings of the world; because no one cares to look at a dying island.

But things don’t always go according to plan, and as the island nears its end, the inhabitants start to get violent, and they need more than an old guy keeping his head down – they need a hero. Enter Tigerman.

I wasn’t expecting such an action-packed story. It is fast-paced, filled as much as any action film, with explosions, death and heroic deeds. Lester is a great lead – tired and conflicted yet with a heart of compassion and hope. The perfect recipe to make a superhero.

All the while, his companion and shadow, the young boy, plays the role of comic book narrator, sidekick, and motivation.

The setting is a perfect allegory about what happens when you have no rules. What would happen if there was a country that allowed for all the questionable and unpleasant ongoings that you could imagine, and how would the people of that country react?

Lester is the moral tightrope; he is told to look away, but what happens when he becomes invested in the outcome? He feels multi-layered and honest, a genuine character that you would like to both be like and avoid. He is not a hero of the comic books that the boy idolises, but instead a man determined to do the right thing, but also with a sense of pride, and a need to prove himself to the boy. He is the realistic thread running throughout a borderline fantastical story (after all, Mancreu is a totally fictional island). Which is what makes a refreshing change from the average superhero; Tigerman could be you.

The twist, when it comes, is totally unexpected, right up until the moment Lester realises it himself. As someone who prides herself on figuring things out pretty early on, this was a pleasant experience. The final few pages are exhilarating and heart-wrenching in equal measure, and the perfect high point of a tricky and entertaining novel.

If the cover doesn’t strike you first, the content will. I have already recommended it to several people – it’s a hidden treasure that if you haven’t heard of it, you most certainly should pay attention. It blends moral questioning with action and adventure seamlessly, without preaching but simply leaving you to make your own choices and opinions. Harkaway is a good writer, with skill and flourish, without falling in to any tropes that can drag you from the story. He tells it with evident pleasure, the feeling of a friend telling a tale. I have already hunted down his other works to devour with the same delight that I have read Tigerman.

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