‘…I seen a UFO fight a tiger. Eight grand.’

[member of the public trying to sell a story to The Stranger Times]

Dark forces are stirring and Manchester is the epicentre of the coming storm in this opener for a new fantasy/crime series from Irish stand up comedian, Caimh McDonnell. If you’d read one of his earlier thrillers you will know they’re jam packed with one liners and the kind of farcical plot twists that only someone with real comic talent could imagine and turn into laugh out loud reading. This book is a bit different, not because it’s not funny, IT IS, but because it’s also an imaginative fantasy that will delight readers of the lighter side of the genre, particularly fans of the late-great Terry Pratchett. I’ve enjoyed several of McDonnell’s books for their crazy paving stories, run away plots and brilliant jokes but the reason Bantam, (Penguin), nabbed this title is because it’s a more rounded novel; the genesis of comedian to novel writer is complete, this is a complex and well written fantasy/comedy thriller.

Manchester, night time, the weather is pretty miserable, of course, this is Manchester. Two men are on a roof, the small man daring the big guy to jump, it may be forty-two floors but adrenalin and the potion he has just drunk will transform him before he hits the ground and splats. At least that’s the theory, it didn’t work last time. Here goes…

Morning outside The Stranger Times office, (a former church). Reginald Fairfax III is on the roof, hell bent on suicide because no one cares and because it’s a Monday! His friend is doing a poor job of talking him down, perhaps he doesn’t think he’ll jump. Hannah Drinkwater, sorry, Hannah Willis, currently standing where Reginald will land, is she’s late for her interview with the editor and she badly needs this job so she leaves them to it. Only a year ago Hannah had it all; money, an easy life, a beautiful home and a husband, (he wasn’t so perfect). Earlier she didn’t get the dream job with Storn, the fabulous Norwegian design company, they noticed the big gap in her CV. Hannah soon discovers there are many strange things about The Stranger Times, (Virgin Mary Halts Terrorist Attack/Switzerland Doesn’t Exist), Vincent Banecroft, (editor), is a piece of work, his office is a tip, he’s drooling onto his desk and he’s unhappy at being woken up. But even hungover he can figure out why Hannah Drinkwater, I mean Willis, has a gap on her CV, she’s got history not that that matters to him. Of the many applicants for the job, as yet unspecified, Hannah is one of only two capable of less than three spelling mistakes on her application. The other fella, who wrote his CV in blood, turned them down – by default she’s hired.

“Now, if that will be all, it’s nearly lunchtime and I have yet to drink my breakfast. I can’t face the afternoon editorial meeting sober.”

Jace, the estate agent, covets the bonus for renting the warehouse nobody wants, (rubbish location, naff furniture, rats, a wreck). So when the American wants a look Jace lies through his teeth about the warehouse’s virtues. The sales patter seems to be working but the buyer isn’t even human; Moretti is planning a blood magic rite, highly illegal but then he doesn’t consider himself subject to British law. This is not Jace’s lucky day.

Homeless Jimmy stole Tanner’s stash so he’s wary then he hears the noise by his sleeping bag, then he sees the glowing eyes, the claws, that’s impossible, ‘they’ are only supposed to exist in books. DI Clarke and DS Wilkerson are investigating a murder so are The Stranger Times, not the same one but not exactly unconnected… The fun is about to begin.

Witty, entertaining and gripping; nothing short of a delight to read and fantasy is by no means my favourite genre.

Reviewed by Paul Burke

Bantam Press, Hardback, ISBN 9781787633353, 14/1/21
Personal/Group Read 4*