I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Stranger Times, which is the first book in the series so I immediately requested the sequel and was delighted to be approved. Would I enjoy it as much?
BLURB: Vampires do not exist. Everyone knows this. So it’s particularly annoying when they start popping up around Manchester . . .
Nobody is pleased about it. Not the Founders, the secret organisation for whom vampires were invented as an allegory, nor the Folk, the magical people hidden in plain sight who only want a quiet life. And definitely not the people of Manchester, because there is nothing more irksome than being murdered by an allegory run amok. Somebody needs to sort this out fast before all Hell really breaks loose – step forward the staff of The Stranger Times.
It’s not like they don’t have enough to be dealing with. Assistant Editor Hannah has come back from getting messily divorced to discover that someone is trying to kidnap a member of their staff and while editor Vincent Banecroft would be delighted to see the back of any of his team, he doesn’t like people touching his stuff – it’s the principle of the thing. Throw in a precarious plumbing situation, gambling debts, an entirely new way of swearing, and a certain detective inspector with what could be kindly referred to as ‘a lot of baggage’ and it all adds up to another hectic week in the life of the newspaper committed to reporting the truth that nobody else will touch.
REVIEW: I’m always a bit wary about humorous fantasy. Far too often I’ve been assured that I’ll find a book absolutely hilarious when – as far as I’m concerned – it’s nothing of the sort. But on reading the first book of the series, I regularly laughed aloud as I inhaled the trials and tribulations of the staff working for a newspaper that features the weird and whacky. In amongst the adventure are also some delightful snippets featured in the paper – it’s these that mostly had me howling with laughter. The humour is very British, as this series is based in Manchester, a northern, industrial English city renowned for its soggy weather, which will give you an indication as to whether this is your type of thing.
This Charming Man is just as amusing and picks up more or less where The Stranger Times left off. That said, I don’t think you need to read the first book to fully appreciate this one, which is always an advantage with a series. I’ve seen this series compared with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series – and for once, there is some mileage in that comparison. McDonnell also writes in third person semi-omniscient viewpoint – which means the author is actually telling the story, at least in places, rather than using the protagonists to do the task. I’m not a huge fan of this mode of narration in modern fiction, other than children’s books, as it’s easy to do badly and difficult to do well. But McDonnell is an experienced wordsmith – he also has written The Dublin Trilogy and the McGarry Stateside series under the pen-name Caimh McDonnell, which I haven’t yet read, but will be checking out very soon.
The mystery at the heart of the book has a nicely satisfying consequence of some thoroughly unpleasant behaviour. So there is a strong moral theme which comes through without being remotely finger-wagging – something else that Pratchett was adept at, particularly in the earlier books. While reading this offering, I enjoyed reacquainting myself with the characters, and was interested to discover why the ghastly Vincent Banecroft, editor of The Stranger Times, is quite so awful. As with most really funny books, there is light and shade within the story, so there are also moments of real poignancy.
All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I look forward to checking out more of McDonnell’s writing – while oh-so-impatiently waiting for the next adventure featuring the eccentrics working for The Stranger Times. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of This Charming Man from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.