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Armadillo Hardcover – October 6, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Lorimer Black may suffer from a serious sleep disorder and an obsession with the labyrinths of the British class system, but Armadillo's peculiar protagonist is the star insurance adjuster of London's Fortress Sure PLC, unaffectionately known as the Fort. At the very start of William Boyd's noir-ish seventh novel, however, things take a decided swerve for the worse. On a bleak January morning one of his cases has apparently chosen to kill himself rather than talk: "Mr. Dupree was simultaneously the first dead person he had encountered in his life, his first suicide and his first hanged man and Lorimer found this congruence of firsts deceptively troubling."

Soon our hero, who himself has a lot to hide, finds himself threatened by a dodgy type whose loss he has adjusted way down and embroiled with the beautiful married actress Flavia Malinverno. "People who've lost something, they call on you to adjust it, make the loss less hard to bear? As if their lives are broken in some way and they call on you to fix it," Flavia dippily wonders. Lorimer also has his car torched and instantly goes from an object of affection to one of deep suspicion at the Fort. Then there is another case, the small matter of the rock star who may or may not be faking the Devil he says is sitting on his left shoulder.

Needless to say, Lorimer is "becoming fed up with this role of fall guy for other people's woes." Boyd adds a deep layer of psychological heft and a lighter level of humor to this thinking-person's thriller by exploring Lorimer's manifold personal and social fears. This is a man who desperately collects ancient helmets even though he knows they offer only "the illusion of protection." Another of Armadillo's many pleasures: its dose of delicious argot. Should Lorimer "oil" the apparent perpetrator of the Fedora Palace arson before he's oiled himself? Or perhaps he just needs to "put the frighteners" on him. Boyd definitely puts the frighteners on his readers more than once in this cinematically seedy and dazzling literary display. --Kerry Fried

From Publishers Weekly

The ever inventive Boyd?whose highly praised first novel, A Good Man in Africa, was followed by others set in Africa and America, sets this latest work in contemporary London, which he observes with the close attention of someone seeing it for the first time. In fact, his protagonist, Lorimer Black, is not exactly a native: his ancestry derives from an obscure Central European Gypsy clan who made it to London after the war. Lorimer is the only truly Anglicized one among them, from his name to his careful sense of what to wear and say on every occasion. He is a loss adjuster at a big insurance company, whose day begins unsettlingly with the suicide of an insured client he was about to visit. Then a new hotel building, mysteriously overinsured, burns down, and his boss, the overbearing and cheerfully philosophical Mr. Hogg, seems to want Lorimer to investigate. A dreadful new colleague comes into his life and tries to make Lorimer his best friend; Lorimer falls hard for a mysterious actress glimpsed in one of his company's TV commercials; his car is vandalized, and he is attacked in the street; his elderly father dies suddenly; and Hogg turns nasty and fires him. Throughout all this, poor Lorimer, stricken with a severe sleep disorder, tries to get some rest at a sleep clinic where he seeks what he calls "lucid dreams," which?unlike his waking life?he can control. Boyd's comic writing is zesty and brilliantly on-target about contemporary Londoners, high and low, and Lorimer's adventures have enough of an alarming edge to keep a reader constantly, and delightedly, off balance. The only flaw in an otherwise sparkling performance is an odd and unlikely journal Lorimer keeps, which is designed to fill the gaps in his previous life, but which never sounds like anything other than the author's voice. Editor, Vicky Wilson; agent: Georges Borchardt.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (October 6, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375402233
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375402234
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,838,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Boyd is the author of ten novels, including A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award; An Ice-Cream War, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Any Human Heart, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet; and Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year.

Customer Reviews

The writing is crisp and flows beautifully.
I didn't really feel like I got to know any of the characters that well.
Amazon Customer
Flavia's an intriguing character, but too much of her mystery remains.
John L Murphy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Goodbye on December 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
Lorimer Black is a loss adjuster working in the City of London. Unwittingly he becomes a pawn in a darker world and a side of business life, where corruption, greed and snobbery prevail.
From the outset this book had a hold on me. It was fascinating immediately, and very funny. I recognised the characters in people I know and laughed outloud so many times that I became a real pain to those within earshot. I very rarely find literature funny, only Spike Milligan in fact.
The writing is crisp and flows beautifully.
The bad type of British male: slobby, uncouth, aggressive and misogynist was supremely portrayed in Torquil Helvoir - Jayne. I have seen these guys so many times in real life. William Boyd makes the point that despite his name and connections Torquil is no different to other pig ignorant individuals who happen to be below him in the class order.
William Boyd has a fine reporter's eye and can build characters that are believable and a wonder to behold.
There are a number of important themes in this book but the main one is the struggle to be someone other than ourselves. A British trait I am afraid, a response to the class bias where we are judged as soon as we open our mouths, in our accents, the way we speak and dress.
Like so many others in Britain poor Lorimer fell for it hook, line and sinker.
There is a great play in names: Milo Blocj becomes Lorimer Black, David Watts the clapped out rock star had also changed his name. Pretence and more pretence.
The book says that underneath it all we are all the same insecure and fragile individuals. Eventually the unreality catches up and drags us down. We wear armour that eventually proves to be too heavy, to be discarded so that real life can enter. Hence the armadillo - the little armed man.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Bickford on August 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
Based on the book's jacket quotes, I expected a much darker, more ominous book. Instead I got the loss adjuster's version of High Fidelity written more dramatically. Which is fine, since I couldn't imagine the words Kafka and comedy being used in the same sentence anyway. To be fair, Armadillo is deeper, more thoughtful than High Fidelity. Throughout, the protagonist Lorimer Black is woven into a complex, dangerous, and utterly believable tailspin full of symbolic events, coincidences and resolutions. I enjoyed the finely written characters, each so vividly drawn that I snarl at the thought of people I know who fit similar descriptions. I also appreciate how the book left some issues unresolved. There are things that Lorimer doesn't know and never will know and the reader shouldn't either. Believe me, it adds to the enjoyment of reading this book. Overall a very rich, well-told and satisfying story which I'd reccommend to anyone who appreciates modern fiction, especially with an English twist.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on March 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
This quintessentially English dark comic novel explores the life of star insurance adjuster Lorimer Black, who has constructed an entire confident persona as a shell to disguise his real self. Among the things he keeps private is his insomnia, his "colorful" immigrant background (his real name is Milomre Blocj) and family, and his expensive antique armor collection. Of course, with Boyd at the helm, there are a number of themes being brought out at once: social satire (people keep assuming he's the son of a Scottish aristocrat), identity (he hides beyond the facade that's gotten him ahead), home (he's secretly bought a small home in suburbs), family (he hasn't quite come to grips with his family), obsession (he falls for a mysterious model and tracks her down). This is all laid against a backdrop of professional entanglements that threaten his job and even his life. Be forewarned, it takes about 40 or 50 pages before things start to get clear, but it's worth it. As usual, Boyd's prose crackles with wit as the notion of identity in the modern Western world is held up for examination. Don't be put off by the big themes though, this is a real page-turner. Not everyone will be satisfied with the ending, which leaves a number of loose ends and on an ambiguous note of hope.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Chris MB on May 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Whilst beginning Armadillo, I was slightly put off by the slow start. I thought, a few times, that I might move on to something else. Boyd spends a lot of time setting this one up. However, I continued and the payoff was worth it. Boyd is a fabulous writer and was able to produce this wonderful novel that seems to cross all types of genre barriers - is it a mystery, thriller, romance?
Bottom line: I was very pleased that I read Armadillo. A fine book by a fine author.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Drummond Berman on July 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
there are so many threads to this highly entertaining and ultimately compelling blackish comedy that you may well find yourself wondering what on earth is going on after forty or so pages. i urge you to persevere. the threads soon begin to intertwine and what quickly emerges is an affectionately written and brightly amusing thriller-of-sorts with unexpected twists aplenty and enough memorable scenes to make a pretty good movie (in fact i think they're making it into a movie right now - i vote that rufus sewell should play lorimer).
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M GLINERT on February 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Boyd can and has done much better than this rather unconvincing tale of deception and self-discovery set against an even less convincing backdrop of sordid property deals and sharp practice in loss adjustment.
The book's hero, Black, does eventually come to terms with both his past and, symbolically, his name. He comes to realise that living a largely isolated if materially successful bachelor life is all very well up to a point. What pushes him up to and beyond that point, hardly a literary first this, is his falling hopelessly in love with an actress seen in a TV commercial.
The vehemence with which some of Black's quirky preferences are expressed (he likes stylish clothes, he doesn't like smoking, he abhors western pop music...) suggest to me that here speaks the author and he is becoming just a trifle pretentious not to say intolerant.
Loss adjustment ? Boyd's view of the commercial world is clearly a cynical, jaundiced one in which the main factors for success are old boy connections, heartlessness, bloody-mindedness and the ability to consume alcohol. It is a world strikingly at odds with the one I know (as a professional of the insurance sector) and, even as a caricature, it is probably some way off the mark.
Sleep disorder ? Has been done with a great deal more care and interest before (of course, Jonathan Coe's remarkable "The House of Sleep"). And as for the stylistic device of slipping in a page of italics from the narrator's personal diary every now and then, I think I have read one too many modern books which relies on this trick.
On the credit size, the merciless bully of a boss reigning over all whose life he touches jumps off the pages at you and has you cowering behind the sofa. He is the novel's clearest, although not its only, success.
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