Percival Everett’s The Trees, a grisly but riotous black comedy about lynching—yes, in the right hands, such an achievement is possible!—was one of the best novels published last year, so fans will be pleased to hear that a similar madcap energy courses through his follow-up.
As the title suggests, Dr No is part Bond-inspired thriller, but also part philosophical enquiry about the nature of nothing and part satire on the evils of white America. When Walu Kitu—a distinguished professor of mathematics at Brown University whose expertise is the study of nothing—is approached by John Sill—a billionaire and wannabe supervillain (“You know, evil for evil’s sake”)—to help him break into Fort Knox and steal a shoebox containing nothing, he’s soon caught up in a bewildering caper.
Everett assembles all the necessary ingredients—a beautiful damsel in distress, shark-infested swimming pools, submarines, laser guns—but nothing is quite what it seems. Or is it? (“I have to tell you that all this talk about nothing is confusing me,” complains Walu Kitu’s brainy colleague Eigen Vector; if she’s struggling, there’s little hope for the rest of us.)
One thing’s for sure, though: Kitu is no James Bond. He’s a “nerdy and Aspergery and awkward” virgin who tenderly carries his beloved one-legged dog around in a BabyBjörn. But he is the only one who truly understands that nothing matters.
Although it lacks the bloody bite of The Trees, the beauty of Dr No is that it’s no more or less preposterous than any Bond film (the references may be classic Connery, but the general vibe is more the high camp era of Roger Moore)—and it’s every bit as entertaining, too.