Friday, 13 April 2018

The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley Review


It’s 20 years after Charles II’s Restoration and the old poleaxe is still seeking revenge against the surviving men who caused his pappy’s head to be separated from his shoulders (aka the fallout from the English Civil War). Two of the judges who found Charles I guilty of high treason have fled to the New World. Naval officer and future celebrated diarist Samuel Pepys decides that his annoying half-French brother-in-law, Baltasar “Balty” St. Michel, should be the man to bring the judges back, mostly as it gets him out of his hair! But Balty soon discovers that there’s more to his mission in the colonies than simply hunting down a couple of old men… 

I used to quite like Christopher Buckley’s lightly humorous, satirical books but, in the 11/12 years since I read Florence of Arabia, it looks like either my tastes have moved on or he’s just written a dud because The Judge Hunter did nothing for me. 

It starts alright with Buckley painting an amusing Blackadder-esque picture of 17th century England with Pepys getting wound up by Balty, Balty’s entrance into the New World after the harrowing Atlantic passage and Balty meeting the roguish Huncks, a compelling blend of Aragorn and James Bond. Then the narrative founders for much of the book as Balty and Huncks fruitlessly meander around New England. A fair amount happens but nothing that was especially entertaining, just a lot of visiting local authorities, asking them where the judges are, repeat, and so on. Their characters and story didn’t grab me as that unique or enthralling and the jokes were non-existent. 

It doesn’t help that neither of our duo’s strivings have any consequence on the final outcome, whether or not they succeed! This is basically the story of how New Amsterdam became New York, a drearily bloodless change from Dutch to English power, and Buckley stays true to history with our two protagonists playing no part in what was an anticlimactic ending. Buckley’s fictional Pepys diary entries interspersing the chapters added nothing besides a bit of historical celebrity and could’ve easily been left out to no effect on the overall narrative. 

The scene where Huncks takes on a New England proto-police patrol single-handed was exciting and Buckley is skilful in bringing to life the 17th century. On the whole though it isn’t a lot and I was bored and unimpressed most of the time. Unfortunately The Judge Hunter isn’t the fun historical comedy I hoped it’d be – definitely not among Buckley’s better books.

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