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Originally published Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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Book review

'Angelmaker': A clock repairman tries to stop the world's end

"Angelmaker" is a gleefully inventive doomsday tale of killer monks, mechanical bees and a mild-mannered elderly assassin by Nick Harkaway, the son of espionage novelist John le Carré.

Special to The Seattle Times

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by Nick Harkaway

Knopf, 496 pp., $26.95

In a delightful article in England's Telegraph newspaper, Nick Harkaway said about his first novel, "The Gone-Away World": "It's an adventure without the faintest attempt at realism. It's a love story. It's a serious novel. And it has ninjas in it."

The same could be said of "Angelmaker." Just replace "ninjas" with "killer monks, mechanical bees, a deceptively mild-mannered elderly assassin, a Genghis-Khan-like fiend, a deeply sinister government agency, and a clock repairman who starts channeling his gangster father."

It's complicated.

Revealing the plot of "Angelmaker" doesn't adequately render its gleeful genre mashup, but here goes; Joe Spork is the clock-man. Asked to examine an insanely complex mechanism, he releases those mechanical bees and inadvertently triggers a doomsday machine.

In a mad attempt to stop things, Joe battles the fiend, falls for sexy Polly Cradle, is horribly tortured, and (no spoiler here) saves the day. Flashbacks to WWII-era spy stuff provide a rich backstory, explaining the steampunkish origins of the machine as well as a deadly game of good (the elderly assassin) versus evil (the fiend).

Harkaway is the son of the brilliant espionage novelist John le Carré. That's one heavy burden for a writer to bear. (In the Telegraph piece, Harkaway comments, "It's not that he casts a long shadow; it's more that it seems pointless to stand next to a lighthouse and wave a torch.") But the younger writer can hold his head high: "Angelmaker" is brilliant, wholly original, and a major-league hoot.

Adam Woog's column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.

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