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The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Speculative Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

The Stranger Times is the first book from C.K. McDonnell, the pen name of Caimh McDonnell and is published with Bantam Press (Transworld/Penguin). It is described as a book that ‘combines his (C.K. McDonnell) distinctive dark wit with his love of the weird and wonderful to deliver a joyous celebration of how truth really can be stranger than fiction.’ Many of you will already know that I am a fan of Caimh’s writing having read all of his previously published novels in both The Dublin Trilogy and its spin-off series McGarry Stateside. When I heard about this new direction that Caimh was taking, I was intrigued and excited.

Living in the UK, Caimh has never forgotten his very strong Irish roots (born in Limerick and raised in Dublin) and continues to bring his distinctive Irish wit onto the pages. Screen rights for The Stranger Times have already been purchased in auction and, let this be a heads-up folks, we are looking at a series that has the potential to reach huge heights. I’m thinking a Dr. Who type of following, a cult following, for this writer who brings something new and fresh onto our bookshelves.

The Stranger Times introduces us to a cast of characters, who are a wonderful mix of personalities, from the eccentric to the downright boorish and absolutely EVERYTHING in-between. A newspaper for the weird and wonderful, The Stranger Times is managed at the helm by a just about functioning, ex-Fleet Street, alcoholic, Vincent Banecroft. Vincent’s life spiralled downward after the loss of his wife. He lost all respect for himself, and everyone else, seeking refuge in a whiskey bottle. For reasons he never quite understood himself, he was hired to take over control of The Stranger Times, a newspaper filled with fanciful stories, yet one that had its own loyal following.

‘Under the destroyed bird’s nest of hair sat grey-green bloodshot eyes in a face of pale unshaven skin. He wore a suit that a charity shop would politely thank you for donating and then burn as soon as you walked out the door. He somehow managed to look both fat and skinny. His face had a hangdog air to it…’

Hannah Willis is attempting to stand on her own two feet after a failed marriage. Her life had been one of luxury but a straying husband put a stop to that. Now on her own, she is looking for a job. An opening arises at The Stranger Times and, with no preparation or research, Hannah unwittingly stumbles into a job that was never in her wildest dreams part of her plan. But it was a job….

‘There are dark forces at work in our world. So thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them…’

With a receptionist, Grace, literally holding the fort together, the remainder of the team are Ox and Reggie, a young girl Stella and a rather odd naked Rastafarian called Manny who rarely leaves the printing room. Somehow this motley crew always manage to get the paper out on time but, within days of Hannah joining the team, there is a shift in the state of play. When an event occurs that personally impacts all on the team, the dynamics change and even Vincent Banecroft awakens his long dormant journalistic talent to get to the bottom of this terrible tragedy.

I was attempting to explain the premise of this book to my husband and younger daughter and I’m not going to lie, it was hard. And the reason quite simply was that I just did not want to give anything away. McDonnell has let his imagination run riot starting this fantastic series with a big loud BANG. Mixing the supernatural with the fantastical in this fast-paced romp around Manchester, he has unleashed the inner child. I loved it, I really, really loved it. The suggestion has been made that this book is perfect for fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books and Ben Aaronovitch’s writing, which is wonderful to hear, but don’t let that deter you if that genre is not normally your thing. McDonnell’s experience as a former stand-up comedian gives him a sense of timing, a balance that all shows through in his writing, providing an all round compelling and exciting read.

The Stranger Times is a totally new direction for McDonnell and is quite simply addictive reading at its finest. I eagerly await the next book in this rather terrific series to see what adventures awaits. One thing I can definitely say is to expect the unexpected. An absolute treat folks. I can honestly guarantee you a highly entertaining weekend of reading ahead! Excellent stuff…..

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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