There are quite a few arguments that Iain Banks is among the top three greatest living authors of the latter part of the last century (and going into the next). He has absolutely no problem writing either straight (but weird) fiction or pure science-fiction but he treats both genres with respect and every work glistens with quality. Those who think that he just slums in the SF genre just to pay the bills in between books are highly mistaken and some of his best work can be found there. This one is I think the only non-Culture SF work (you can make a case for The Bridge but that one's more a Kafka nightmare than anything else) and definitely worth the time. The hallmarks that regular readers already know and love are here, involving plot, finely detailed characters, breakneck action, an offbeat and downbeat attitude and an interesting world that everyone lives in. The deal here is that a cult is looking for the last Lazy Gun (a weapon of mass destruction that has a power that has to be seen to be believed), and Sharrow has to find it before they do. Her family has the last one, but nobody knows where it is and so between dodging people trying to kill her, she has to piece together clues thousands of years old. Not that she's alone in the quest, she gathers a team of close friends to help her and off they go. I do absolutely no justice to the plot in this fashion, this is barely even a basic structure and when you read it you'll see how rich and detailed this book is. The twists are many and almost always surprising, the dialogue is witty and to the point and the situations are nothing short of fascinating. The only small problems is that the book is just a tad too long, some parts of it toward the middle drag just a tad but generally always pick up and the last couple hundred pages fly by all too quickly. Sometimes Banks highlights Sharrow's past as a way of showing us how those events made her into the person she is today but he does to do them without much transition so they can be confusing if you're not used to that. Other than that keep in mind that like most SF authors on the other side of the Atlantic, Banks can be brutal and realistic while dazzling us with his worlds and if Consider Pheblas taught anyone anything, it's that all bets are off as to who makes it to the end intact or at all. Another standout book by an author who doesn't seem to be able to write anything bad if he tried, Banks deserves more credit over here and perhaps one day he will.