You'd have to be a moron in a hurry not to know this is Bryce Courtenay's final work, completed as he fought a valiant but ultimately ill-fated battle with stomach cancer. But even as he struggled to finish his 21st book, Courtenay's skills as a consummate yarn spinner shone through.
Take the first two lines: ''Harry Spayd was a drunk. He was also my father, but the only thing he contributed to my childhood was a sense of unremitting terror.''
Two short, sharp karate-chop sentences and the reader is hooked.
Set across three continents, this typically sprawling Courtenay epic fills 711 pages - and the pace never wilts as the son of the drunkard, Jack Spayd, escapes the Depression-era slums of Cabbagetown, Toronto, en route to a stellar career as a jazz musician, a falling out with the Mafia running Las Vegas and a denouement in Africa.
This is no literary triumph, but it offers, as Courtenay has done since his memorable debut with The Power of One, terrific amusement. Few authors can match Courtenay for sheer readability no matter the topic.
Cabbagetown, where this story begins, was a place of extreme poverty in the 1930s, with domestic violence common. ''Doorknobs had a terrible reputation,'' he writes.
Yet young Jack's musical talents - and the fortuitous arrival on the scene of generous benefactors - enable him to rise above his humble beginnings and the fact he is ''different and a loner''.
Unfortunately, his talent with the harmonica and piano are matched by a love of poker - and his luck eventually turns.
There are, throughout all his novels, cartoonish elements to Courtenay's writing. Take the piano teacher who rages: ''Damn you Jack Spayd. I hope you have a truly rotten life.'' But several of his characters have been larger than life and many of the tributes that followed his death ignored that he wrote in an enthusiastic, populist style that often featured similar plot lines. Kid from poor upbringing makes good is among the most prominent.
But the South African-born former advertising copywriter never set out to be a great writer after discovering his skills as a novelist relatively late in life. Rather, he sought to be a great entertainer.
In that, he always succeeded - and he wrote his own epitaph when he said: ''If in the end, someone says: 'Here lies Bryce Courtenay, a storyteller', my life will have been worthwhile.'' His lifelong love affair with words certainly gave millions much pleasure - as will his final work.
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