Review: The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell

 



Title: The Stranger Times

Author: C.K. McDonnell

Published: 14th January 2021, Bantam Press UK

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy Bantam Press/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

The premise of Caimh McDonnell’s novel caught my attention because as a teenager I discovered a UK magazine called The Fortean Times, which reported on ‘weird news’ (and still does as far as I know) and went to great trouble and expense to have it imported by my local newsagent for a year or two.

“Publication seeks desperate human being with capability to form sentences, using the English language. No imbeciles, optimists or Simons need apply.”

Similarly, the titular ‘The Stranger Times’ is a weekly newspaper devoted to the weird and wonderful. When Hannah Willis, newly separated and desperate, answers an ad for a position at The Stranger Times she has no idea what it may entail, but she is not expecting to find a man threatening to throw himself off the roof, a wannabe reporter named Simon lurking by the entrance, and then for her new boss, Vince Bancroft, to set fire to his office and shoot himself in the foot during her interview. Still, Hannah needs a job and this is the only one on offer.

“We aren’t reporting the story as fact; we’re reporting the existence of the story as fact.”

Though Hannah doesn’t believe in the litany of the strange and implausible that The Stranger Times reports on that’s all about to change when, after Simon is found dead at the base of a construction tower, the staff of The Stranger Times becomes the target of a killer, who has a vicious beast at his command.

“Because, sweetheart, you ain’t never met a short-arsed slaphead quite like me.”

The Stranger Times is an entertaining urban fantasy novel. Set in Manchester, McDonnell introduces a shadow world that lurks amongst ours, where folk hide in plain sight. One of these folk has gone rogue, breaking a centuries old Accord, and the staff of The Stranger Times gets in the way of his plans for murder and mayhem. But no matter what happens, the paper still needs to go out.

The staff of The Stranger Times are an eccentric bunch, editor Vince Bancroft is a barely functioning alcoholic in a permanent bad temper, flatmates Ox and Reggie are feature writers, specialists in the supernatural and extraterrestrial, Stella is a teenage runaway, and pious Grace is the paper’s office manager. I loved their unique personality’s, and their group dynamic which is delightfully dysfunctional.

Though it gets off to a bit of a slow start I was quickly caught up in this witty, weird and wonderful romp full of magic, mystery and monsters. Read all about it in The Stranger Times!

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Available from Bantam Press UK

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Review: The Lost Boys by Faye Kellerman

 

 

Title: The Lost Boys {Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus #26}

Author: Faye Kellerman

Published: 17th January 2020, William Morrow

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy William Morrow

++++++

My Thoughts:

I thought I’d missed no more than a handful of the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series but this is Kellerman’s 26th book featuring the couple and I’ve only read just over half, the last of which was book #22, Murder 101. Thankfully however this seems to matter little, aided in part because Kellerman ages her characters in real time.

In The Lost Boys, Decker and his partner Tyler are called in when a man disappears while on a field trip with a group from a local care home. In searching the woods nearby, a body is found in a shallow grave, but this man has lain there for at least a decade.

With his customary doggedness, Decker attacks both investigations. The missing man is his initial priority, with growing concerns that he has been targeted by because of his parent’s wealth. When blood is found at the home of a nurse that may be connected, Decker fears the worst, but despite his best efforts the case soon stalls. Unexpectedly Kellerman employs a cliffhanger of sorts in this instance, though the missing man is eventually located, the circumstance spawns another mystery.

In the second investigation, the remains prove to belong to one of three young college men who disappeared while on a camping trip. The damage to his skeleton suggests that he had been shot, and Decker wonders if he is looking for the bodies of his two companions, or if the two men may have killed the third and gone on the run. Investigating a ten year old cold case is a difficult task, but thorough police work results in an important break. In general I liked how this case played out, however one flaw I had difficulty overlooking was an emphasis on a shovel being out of place on a camping trip. Perhaps Faye has never been camping because I wouldn’t consider it at all strange that campers have a shovel, a digging implement is essential when there are no bathrooms.

While Decker is busy with police work, Rina is offering moral support to their foster son, Gabe whose biological mother has suddenly returned to the States with Gabe’s half siblings. It’s clear Terry is in trouble and Gabe is torn when she asks for his help, but it seems inevitable he will be drawn into the mess she has got herself into.

With this, and the unanswered questions of the first investigation, Kellerman has laid the foundation the next book in the series, though I think it’s clear that it’s end is creeping closer. Peter is seventy or thereabouts and is making plans for his retirement from the force, but there are hints, I think, that Tyler could take up the mantle.

Kellerman offers up two well paced, and involving mysteries in The Lost Boys, but as a fan it’s the opportunity to catch up with Peter, Rina and their family that I enjoy the most.

++++++

Available from William Morrow Books

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Review: Shelter by Catherine Jinks

Title: Shelter

Author: Catherine Jinks

Published: 5th January 2020, Text Publishing

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy Text/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Shelter is a tense, twisty domestic thriller, from Australian author Catherine Jinks.

Meg knows all too well what it’s like to suffer at the hands of an abusive husband so she is willing to accept the risks of providing temporary shelter to a young mother and her two daughters on the run. Meg’s home, ‘The Bolthole’, is an isolated property in country NSW, and great care has been taken to ensure the family are impossible to trace, yet Nerine remains terrified that her husband will find them. Though Meg does her best to allay Nerine’s fears, and reassure five year old Ana and 22 month old Collette they are safe, some minor incidents stoke’s Meg’s own anxieties. She thinks it is more likely her own ex-husband has returned to intimidate her with regards to a recent inheritance, than Nerine’s husband having found her, but the real threat is closer to home than Meg can ever imagine.

Shelter isn’t an easy read, the themes and issues central to the novel, which includes generational trauma, domestic violence, psychological manipulation, and narcissism, are uncomfortable to explore, however I got caught up in this taut, well paced thriller which cleverly subverts reader’s expectations. Though the primary plot twist is not entirely unexpected, it shocks nevertheless, and Jinks left me feeling breathless as the level of menace and violence accelerated in its wake. In regards to the conclusion though I am somewhat torn, it’s reasonably realistic and as such fitting, but not very satisfying.

At times I found Meg to be a frustrating character, however her behaviour really is in keeping with someone who has been a long term victim of psychological abuse by a narcissistic partner. Even though she is physically free of her ex husband, Meg’s first instinct is always to appease someone who exhibits high emotion, or makes demands of her, so she reacts, rather than makes decisions. Nerine is convincing as a mother paranoid about the safety of herself and her children, and though she’s not particularly likeable, she is sympathetic in light of the story she presents. Jinks’s portrayal of the children, especially Ana, deserves special mention, as they are accurately represented with regards to age and circumstance.

I found Shelter to be dark and disturbing, yet utterly engrossing, but fair warning, it may be too much for readers sensitive to its themes.

++++++

Available from Text Publishing

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