The Tigerman first emerged in a cloud of smoke on the doomed island of Mancreu where he single-handedly broke up what appeared to be a ring of heroin smugglers. His origin may have been unknown to his enemies, but the real mystery in the novel by Nick Harkaway that bears his name is the identity of his sidekick, the unnamed boy who called himself Robin.
The Tigerman is really Sergeant Lester Ferris, the last remnant of the British government’s presence on this former colony in the Arabian Sea. Ferris’s job is merely to keep the consulate open on the island’s final days. Mancreu has become an environmental menace, belching toxic clouds into the air. To prevent the spread of Mancreu’s poison, the island would have to be destroyed. Gradually, citizens of the Island began Leaving, and the island “became a kind of Casablanca, possessed of an uncertain legal status by virtue of the sentence of death, expropriated from its notional sovereign by the international will, gladly yielded up to its doom, yet still there and officially claimed by no one.”
It’s here that Sergeant Ferris gets to know the boy, whose status is also uncertain, at least to the Sergeant. He likes the boy, with his eccentric English, filled with Internet slang (“full of win”) and comic-book references. But he wonders where the boy comes from and what will happen to him when the island is destroyed. He begins making inquiries and wondering, even hoping, that he will be able to adopt the boy.
As Ferris is quietly dreaming of becoming the boy’s family, the two get caught in the middle of a shootout and Ferris foils the shooters to save the boy’s life. Now, he’s more than a father figure, he’s a superhero. And he spends much of the rest of the book trying to become the hero the boy expects and the father the boy needs.
Lester is a good sort of man who hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to be more than an ordinary decent person. He’s a loyal public servant, basically invisible, with no family to speak of and no close ties. The relationship with the boy makes him more than he was—perhaps makes him who he truly is. I was reminded of Roland’s relationship with Jake in The Gunslinger by Stephen King. Even though Roland and Lester are entirely different men, the way they’re transformed by these seemingly other-worldly boys is similar. I could say that this is a story about how fatherhood is a transformative experience, and that idea is present, but it feels like a more universal idea than that. It’s more about the value of opening yourself up to feel something for someone else and letting someone else feel something for you. It’s a story about love.
Based on what I’d heard about Nick Harkaway, largely from Jeanne, I was expecting a loopy plot, but the narrative is more straightforward than I thought it might be. It’s a strange situation, and plot twists abound, but it’s not a difficult story to grasp hold of. It’s possible that I’ve been under a false impression about Harkaway’s books, or it could be that this book is atypical. At any rate, it’s a fun read, with an ending that makes me want to revisit the whole story again. I’m glad I finally gave Harkaway a try.