Seventy Two Virgins

Boris Johnson has all the luck: moments after his novel about an amateur invasion of the Palace of Westminster appears, complete with blustering MPs and silly-sounding officials in tights and ceremonial swords, real life imitates art. Not, of course, that the eight hunt supporters who broke through the security cordon have any beliefs in common with Johnson’s fanatic islamo-fascists?both, however, share a seat-of-the-pants amateurism.

The terrorists in the novel intend a far more violent endgame and, in this, they are aided by a singularly inept police force who, when not bothering to check out security lapses or answer telephones, are beating innocent people over the head with batons. Does that ring any bells?

As well as Mr Johnson’s inside knowledge of Parliament (he’s MP for Henley and shadow arts minister) and his exuberantly idiosyncratic prose style, Mr Johnson is also brilliant at characterisation?each one of his cast of hundreds leaps to life in a few sentences. My own favourites are the Hausa prince-turned-traffic-warden who knows his duty even in extremis; Dean, the terrorist from Wolverhampton with the unlikely vowels; and the ghastly television chef.

The?sort of?hero, Roger Barlow, is clearly not a million miles away from the author, who, should he ever become arts minister, will clearly have little time for the designs of Pugin (‘demented’) or Lord Irvine’s wallpaper, ‘plum and bottle green, like the luxurious trousers of some 19th-century clown.’ And, yes, I laughed out loud approximately every 30 minutes.

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