Dr No by Percival Everett

God help us. Nothing happened.


I am a very recent reader of Percival Everett, starting with The Trees which was a subverted crime story with race as the issue along with a little fantasy and horror but I didn’t really think about what this book might be about when I picked it up. As the title suggests James Bond, this book is a subversion of heroes or overcoming the monster stories, with race as the central issue but a step on from The Trees in terms of how the story is handled. It’s just a little bit crazier.

Wala Kitu, a professor of nothing, works in the maths departments of a university where he is an expert in nothing and this is one of the first playfulnesses of the book – playing with nothing and how nothing must be something. Even his name means nothing in Tagalog and Swahili.

Most believe, wrongly, that nothing is merely the emptiness between subatomic particles. Nothingness is not emptiness any more than its absence of something, some thing, some things or substance. . . To experience the power of nothing would be to understand everything, to harness the power of nothing would be to negate all that is, and the sad, scary crucial idea here is that this might well be a distinction without a difference.


So that’s all clear then!

Kitu meets John Sill, a self-made billionaire, who wants to be a really bad villain and who pays Kitu $3 million dollars to join in him in this enterprise which Kitu does without really knowing what he is getting into. However, you can imagine some of the fun when the secret services eventually pick Kitu up and ask him what the money is for and he says ‘Nothing.’ Or, ‘I just got a grant for nothing’ and ‘ I work very hard and wish I could say that I have nothing to show for it.’ The word play on nothing is fantastic and runs throughout the book.

Along the way we meet Trigo his one-legged dog who can’t move on his own and who poops everywhere – I wondered if this was part of subverting the genre because villain stories such as Bond can be very glamorous with none of the daily activities of life. And the beautiful woman is Eigen Vector, another professor of mathematics who is also ‘somewhere along the spectrum’ and who brings her own way of seeing things to the drama. She is drugged to keep her compliant and willing to live the life alongside a villain – an interesting side note on how we get Bond women.

Their mission is to break into Fort Knox and steal a box that contains nothing. The nothing will then be weaponised and set free on Washington and America when they will become nothing or nullified and so the story goes on with all the elements that you might expect from a 007 type story. People are killed in shark infested pools, there are guns and shootings, private jets and compounds that contain computers and people in white coats working purposefully and don’t forget the fight scenes. They are all in there.

But lurking in this story is a commentary on race in America (and elsewhere). Characters are labelled as Black or White with the villain being ‘slightly racially ambiguous’. There is a wonderful scene where Kitu is stopped by the police for driving irregularities – he can’t drive and doesn’t have a license although he did discover that if you keep your foot pressed evenly but gently on the accelerator it makes for a smoother journey than pushing your foot down and then releasing it. The cop is White and calls in the crime but is told by the handler to let Kitu go to which he replies ‘but he’s black. Do you hear me? He is black! ‘

‘Problem?’ I asked.

He turned back to me. ‘No. Go on, I guess. They told me to let you go. So go. Go before I shoot you.’


It was almost as if it were nothing. (Now I’ve started doing it!)

The wordplay in the book is magnificent. The play on nothing is like nothing else I have ever read but there is also the mathematical vocabulary, where at times I don’t really know what is being said, likewise with the -tion’ suffix. In the park is a preacher,

Where is life taking you, sister? The preacher looked at Eigen.

‘I don’t know,’ she said.

‘She doesn’t know. How many times have I heard that. The repetition of the elocution of that rendition of proclamation leaves me wanting explanation. It is my contention that the asserveration of your location vis-a-vis your position remains without explanation in spite of my verbalisation, my vocalisation, my ejaculation of the problemation. Amen. Can I get a witness?’


This is a comedy with crazy word play, a little bit bonkers and a lot of greatness. I wasn’t sure about it until about halfway through and then I got it and loved it. When Kitu is asked what was motivating Sill in his mission of villainy, his answer was,

To make America nothing again.


There is nothing more to be said.

Other books by Everett are The Trees, So Much Blue and I am Not Sidney Poitier

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