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The Seattle Times: "The vainglorious Gerald is a wonderfully cranky narrator and the book's satirical-outrage factor sometimes reaches Borat-like heights."

Date: Dec 4 2006

"Amazing Disgrace": A ghost writer and his "shark-pruned" subject

Gerald Samper — ghost writer to semi-illiterate celebrities, enthusiastic perpetrator of culinary horrors, proud owner of a mountaintop villa in Tuscany — is back.

British writer James Hamilton-Paterson first introduced readers to the curmudgeonly Gerald and his "cuisine of contempt" (including such horrors as "iced fish cake" and "Kidneys in Toffee") a couple of years ago in "Cooking with Fernet Branca." In that same novel, he also chronicled Gerald's difficult relations with his mountaintop neighbor Marta (a film composer from a strangely unlocatable ex-Soviet satellite called Voynovia), as well as Gerald's struggle to work on his latest hack-for-hire project: the autobiography of a singer with a boy band called Freewayz.

In "Amazing Disgrace," Marta has gone missing — a possible victim, Gerald believes, of "that disgraceful American security programme ... known as 'extraordinary rendition' " — while the boy-band singer has resurfaced, his group now known, at Gerald's suggestion, as Alien Pie.

But the star of this show is "celebrated around-the-world-one-armed yachts personality" Millie Cleat. The "shark-pruned" Millie is, according to Gerald, "grotesquely ambitious, manipulative, without scruple and completely besotted by her own image."

Gerald may despise her, but Millie, after circumnavigating the globe in her high-tech yacht, has become the popular heroine of the British tabloids, and if Gerald can just wrap-up "Millie!" — her as-told-to book about her exploits — he/she may have the hit of the Christmas publishing season on their hands.

Two complications: Millie has had a spiritual awakening and wants the book rewritten with her new-born oceanic mysticism woven into it. And Gerald's yellow-oil-skin-clad oceanographer boyfriend Adrian ("It's nice to discover a mild fetish on the brink of forty") is eager to expose Millie as the disrupter of a tsunami-warning research project off the Canary Islands during her efforts to win a round-the-world yacht race.

Throw in Gerald's mishaps with a penis-enlargement herbal regimen and his eagerness to write the bio of a world-renowned conductor, and you have the makings of more than one "amazing disgrace."

As this summary may suggest, "Amazing Disgrace" is a bit overstuffed with comic complications, causing it to lumber along in some passages when it should be leaping. Still, the vainglorious Gerald is a wonderfully cranky narrator and the book's satirical-outrage factor sometimes reaches Borat-like heights.

At the same time, Hamilton-Paterson manages to make the boozy, preening, narcissistic Gerald both a cynical biter of the hand that feeds him and a surprisingly effective social critic — even a voice of conscience. For as a ghost writer to the stars, he's taken the measure of our success-besotted age and found it wanting.

"People expect their sporting heroes to lie and cheat and foul and stuff themselves with performance-enhancing drugs," he writes, "because if they don't it means they've stopped short of a total commitment to winning."

The action may be wild and woolly, but Gerald's voice is sharp on every page. And his recipes — for vindaloo blancmange, badger Wellington, dove-'n'-budgie sausage, and many more — are as inventively nauseating as ever.

By Michael Upchurch