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Novel set in London and Norway

5th July 2017

Short Ride on a Fast Machine by Magnus McGrandle, novel set in London and Norway,

If ever there was a novel with a misleading title, this is it – not so much a short ride as an lengthy journey. It might be more apt to entitle it “All you never wanted to know about being a backgammon-playing bicycle courier.

Novel set in London and NorwaySam Black, a sharp, young London based bicycle courier with something of an obsession for playing backgammon, is given a very odd assignment – to collect a stuffed owl from a rural lakeside in Norway and return it to its owner, Mr Sorensen, in London. The latter apparently needs the owl to enter into a taxidermy competition. Any sensible person would have had alarm bells ringing, but the money he is promised shouts louder and Sam accepts the assignment, taking along his friend and fellow courier, Poyntz, for company. He quickly comes to realise that Poyntz, despite his shared interest in backgammon, is something of a liability and that Sorensen seems to be of interest to the international police. And so the novel spins on through various mishaps and disasters, not least of which is that Sam has inevitably become an accomplice to a very significant theft.

Short Ride on a Fast Machine is set on the streets of London and also partly in Norway but gives the reader little sense of either place, principally because Sam, our narrator for most of the novel, is whizzing along at breakneck speed on his beloved Pinarello, either narrowly avoiding collisions with buses and Porsches driven by gangsters, or else enduring hideous scrapes with the same. What it does do is give the reader a very clear insight into what life is like for a cycle courier and a pretty grim one it is too – poor pay, dreadful conditions and a life expectancy that would make the life of Victorian child chimney sweep seem positive by comparison.

McGrandle’s novel is described as comic and, in places, it is but I must admit I struggled to decide whether it was meant to be comic or serious – it didn’t seem to quite manage either. Sometimes, I found myself wondering if the author was trying to make some serious point about life being like a game of backgammon, requiring both skill and luck, but I couldn’t quite make it fit. The main problem with Short Ride is that it is just too long-winded. Much of the dialogue is repetitive and frankly unnecessary – true to real life, no doubt, but hardly entertaining. Then, too, McGrandle’s penchant for exceedingly lengthy lists and the mathematical details of backgammon plays make for a tedious read in places. A good editorial pruning would have improved it greatly.

Not wishing to damn this first novel too much, I have to say that I enjoyed some aspects of it – the insight into the life of a courier was new and very interesting, I enjoyed the characterisation and there were a couple of deliciously dark humorous scenes that give a hint of good things to come from McGrandle – I’ll watch out for the next one.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

You can follow the author on Twitter and of course you can buy his book here

As Ellen mentions, the life of a bicycle courier is dangerous at times. We reviewed Emily Chappell’s “What Goes Around“, the memoir of a cycle courier, which demonstrates just how difficult life on two wheels can be. Set in London.

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