Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Happiest People in the World

by Brock Clarke
337 pgs

In 2012 the UN Conference on Happiness commissioned a study to determine who were the happiest people in the world. The report came back and designated the Danes as the holders of that title. With that as background, Brock Clarke's latest book begins with a series of events that seem eerily precognitive, given the recent events with Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

Jens Baedrup is an editorial cartoonist for a minor newspaper in Denmark, whose life is turned upside down after he draws a political cartoon featuring the prophet Muhammad in a less-than-favorable light. Enraged terrorists blow up the newspaper he works for and burn his house to the ground. Believed to have been killed by the arsonist terrorists, Jens leaves his wife--whose response to whether she could go the rest of her life pretending that he was dead was, "I can do that"--and his life behind, and is relocated to America by Danish security agents.

His name is changed to Henry, he's given a bus ticket to Broomeville, New York, and given the job of guidance counselor at the local junior-senior high school. What Henry doesn't know, is that he's not the only citizen of Broomeville that has a secret past. Several of its citizens are clandestine CIA agents living double lives, and the principal of the school he works for used to be having an affair with the Danish security agent that spirited Henry out of Denmark and lined up his new job. Never having fully forgiven her husband for having his affair, the principal's wife begins having her own affair, with Henry.

Meanwhile, back in Denmark, one of the terrorists experiences a change of heart and seeks out Jens' "widow" to confess to her his crime and clear his conscience. In doing so, he discovers that Jens did not die and is immediately so enraged over the needless guilt he had been carrying for so long, he decides he's going to kill Jens again.

I've read two of Clarke's previous books: An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England and Exley and enjoyed both of them a lot. This one is just as good. It has the tone and feel of a Coen Brothers' movie. Fans of the movie or series Fargo should enjoy it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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