Boyd's novel is the story of a young insurance adjustor whose predictable rise to a comfortable success in business is interrupted by a murder and the sudden appearance of strange people in his life. Set in London, the tale combines a touch of Dickensian realistic comedy with a Kafkaesque sense of modern urban terror. Though his business has given him an eye for risk and danger, the hero is completely unprepared for the web of fraud and deceit that slowly spreads through his world.
Hilary Mantel's "The Giant O'Brien" (Holt, 191 pages, $22) is also a rare treat. It is a darkly amusing story about an Irish giant who comes to London to exhibit himself at the end of the Age of Enlightenment.