“Romeo And/Or Juliet” by Ryan North (2016)

Leave a comment

“As we now know, William Shakespeare (1564 AD-whenever he died) was well known for borrowing from existing literature when writing his plays.”

Who remembers “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from childhood? Goosebumps did a solid range, and I had one based on a Famous Five adventure – you failed if you run out of ginger beer rations. If both dot-to-dot and colouring books got adapted for adults, then I don’t see why these shouldn’t come back too. Fortunately, Ryan North is way ahead of me, turning the classic play Romeo and Juliet on its head and letting us decide how it all plays out in fair Verona.

I’ve read this six times now, and every time produced an entirely different story. We all know the original: Romeo meets Juliet, they fall in love but their families had one another, there’s some fighting, and both the heroes die. Tale as old as him. Here, however, I several times managed to end the feud between the Montague and Capulet families without killing anyone (once within fifteen minutes of starting), somehow turned into the Nurse and took on a side quest designed like a point-and-click game, was killed by Benvolio, and even have Juliet end up marrying Orlando, who isn’t even in this play. At one point I wished to be turned into the glove on Juliet’s hand, only for my wish to actually be granted. At the beginning, you pick to play as either Romeo or Juliet, and there are options to swap between the two. You can follow through the play was Shakespeare intended, but where’s the fun in that? I still haven’t.

The best of it is that, from bits I gleaned while finding my passages, there is still so much more to explore. You can unlock a secret character to play as someone else. There are further Choose Your Own Adventure stories laced inside this one, with versions of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to play. There are endings where Romeo and Rosaline end up together, Romeo and Juliet destroy Verona with robots, and at least one where Juliet doesn’t kill herself when she thinks Romeo is dead but instead kills everyone else. And yes, the original one is in here too. None of these are spoilers particularly, as I couldn’t tell you how to get to any of those endings, and there must be at least another forty or so.

While there are some mentions of the original text, either obliquely or in full, it’s mostly updated to modern slang with a very casual style, which is all the more hilarious. Romeo is a whiny teenage boy who is obsessed with love, and Juliet, wonderfully, is a muscular, weight-lifting, protein-shake-chugging bodybuilder who can totally take care of herself. From what I gathered, Romeo tends to get the gorier endings, whereas Juliet usually comes out of it alright and ends up doing something ridiculous.

It’s a really fun book, and I think you have to read it several times just to get the most out of it. What happens if Romeo doesn’t go to the party? What happens is Juliet tells Lady Capulet that she won’t marry Paris? What if the lovers abscond to Paris when Romeo is banished and entirely cut off contact with their families? It’s time to find out.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“This Body’s Not Big Enough For Both Of Us” by Edgar Cantero (2019)

Leave a comment

“Elmore Leonard said it’s bad style to open a novel with the weather.”

It’s hard being trapped, isn’t it? At the moment, there is definitely that vibe over my island home, as the Prime Minister has locked down the nation to limit the spread of coronavirus. (I’ll try not to keep bringing this up, but it is all that’s on my mind of late.) Nonetheless, not all traps are physical, or maybe you don’t mind the location but it’s the company that is problematic. Now imagine having to share a body. How would you cope with that?

Adrian and Zooey Kimrean are private investigators unlike any others in the world. Born into the same body, they are basically conjoined twins but joined at a very base level. It’s his liver and her heart, one arm and leg each, and while Adrian controls one half of the brain, meaning he’s pure logic, Zooey controls the other that longs for a hedonistic lifestyle. Their androgynous appearance and apparent split personality is therefore confusing to many others, but there’s no denying the two of them are among the finest detectives in California.

When the sons of drug cartel boss Victor Lyon start getting killed in the seedy town of San Carnal, A. Z. Kimrean (as the duo are collectively known) are hired to find out who is responsible. No one wants it to be the yakuza, and yet it just might be, and that would be bad news for everyone. Kimrean has to work out who is really behind it, all the while saving the youngest of the Lyon clan, saving an undercover police officer, and, as the book itself puts it, “face every plot device and break every rule Elmore Leonard wrote” to solve the case.

What a riot. Never mind the madcap plot, even, but as I learnt from the last of his books I read, no one writes like Edgar Cantero. The whole thing knows it’s a novel, and the characters do too, and he’s not afraid to mention a room as being the same on “from Chapter 3” instead of describing it again, or not giving a character a name because “he’ll probably be dead by the end of the next page”. In places, it’s hugely cinematic, others very meta. While none of us may know exactly what Cantero is doing, he does, and thank goodness for that. There are laugh out loud lines on every page, and no one has had a mastery over metaphor and allusion like this since the days of Douglas Adams. At one point, a punchline references a Vine video, something that many readers – and particularly those who don’t spend all their time on social media – would have no idea about, and yet it’s a bonus for anyone who gets it.

Kimrean themselves is a miracle of a creation. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes and Dirk Gently were inhabiting the same body and you get the kind of level of detection work that’s going on here. The grammar is, at times, confusing, but both parts of Kimrean’s personality get their own time to shine and you see how they work together in harmony. Well, almost. At least once do the two personalities come to physical blows, and it takes a great deal of skill to write a character fighting their own body. Is the premise a bit silly? Certainly, but it’s fun, and you don’t care. Even the plot is really quite nondescript, and I won’t be able to tell you much about what actually happened a few months down the line, but the real drama in here is Adrian and Zooey and their relationship with each other and the world. If you like your murders gory and silly in equal measure, here is where to come.

The next book on my list is complete escapism. It’s what we need most.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“You Took The Last Bus Home” by Brian Bilston (2016)

Leave a comment

“you took the last bus home”

Just a quick little review today. I’m not particularly good when it comes to poetry. It was my weakest module on my university course, and I’ve really struggled to find some that I like over the years. There are exceptions, of course, and I can now at Brian Bilston to my list of poets I enjoy, along with Spike Milligan and John Cooper Clark.

I first encountered Bilston on Twitter where he shares some of his topical poetry, and he’s a delight to follow. Warm and witty, his poems usually make me laugh, so I got hold of his collection of poetry to see what else I was missing. I was absolutely not disappointed. Some are only a few lines long, just little haikus. Most are funny or silly or based around a pun, a few others are more serious and sad. A lot of them focus on very mundane things, like bin lorries, cutlery or office small talk. Some of them are unique in format, and there are poems here in the form of Venn diagrams, Scrabble boards, flowcharts and spreadsheets.

It’s hard to know what to say about poetry, really, as I’ve not reviewed it on here before, but all I can say is that everyone should get hold of this book and have a read. Some of my absolute favourites include “Read my Lips” (a call for a bibliophile lover), “A Chemical Romance” (a love poem containing all the symbols from the periodic table in order) and “You Are a Map” (erotica with a twist).

The world is a little bit mad, scary and sad just now, so take your mind off it with this beautiful collection of silly poems, or at least follow Bilston on Twitter and get more of them fired at you on a daily basis.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Mr Lonely” by Eric Morecambe (1981)

Leave a comment

“It was Tuesday morning.”

Following the recent news that Simon Cowell is due to “write” a series of children’s books with his son, it’s stirred up feelings among the literati on Twitter regarding celebrities getting publishing contracts. Some of them can write, you can’t deny that, but it’s pretty rich when there are so many people out there who want nothing but to write getting looked over in favour of celebrities who have never publicly mentioned that desire before. Plus, the cynic in me has immediately assumed that the closest Cowell will get to doing any of the physical writing and story crafting is cashing the cheques. This is not a new phenomenon, however, and many celebrities have turned their hand to writing fiction when contemplating a career change. Eric Morecambe is, without question, one of my comedy heroes, but one does wonder if this venture into the page was necessary.

Sid Lewis is a stand-up comedian who earns low wages peddling his jokes in dingy smoky clubs. When not on stage, he’s busy chasing the dancing girls and singers who share his bill, even when he marries the sensible and stable Carrie who just wishes he’d get a proper job and doesn’t understand this desire to be the centre of attention. One night, Sid tries out a new character, the titular Mr Lonely, and when someone from the BBC sees it and offers him an opportunity of a lifetime, Sid’s life changes overnight.

Now one of the most famous comics in the country, Sid finds his appetites for women as strong as ever, but in this new life of champagne and limousines, things begin to catch up with him and it seems his excesses might finally have come back to haunt him. He may have finally got everything he wanted – but is he really happy?

You can tell it’s Morecambe, certainly. Despite the show having been written by Eddie Braben – among many others – he was a brilliant comic nonetheless and the book is sprinkled liberally with jokes, daft asides and silly characters that you can hear him saying to Ernie. Unfortunately, as many other people have said, it is “of it’s time”. I became worried that the book would ruin my view of Eric (a case of not only never meeting your heroes, but also never reading their fiction) but I’ve hoped for the best that the staggering number of sexist, racist and homophobic comments within the text are the views of Sid rather than Eric. It’s hard to read through those parts, and I’m not even sure the excuse of saying it is of its time is valid, as it was published in 1981, and the world was already making some steps towards sanity on those issues by then.

The biggest mystery surrounding the whole thing is that we never actually find out what Sid’s Mr Lonely character involves. Despite giving us the title, the character doesn’t show up until over halfway through the book, and then is given more as a throwaway line. He does the character, it goes well, is immediately seen by a man from the BBC and he’s got his own television show within months. The rise to fame is meteoric, but entirely unexplained. It’s almost like Morecambe couldn’t be bothered to come up with a concept, despite having shown us Sid on stage prior to this, complete with jokes. It seems an odd choice.

A second odd choice, but one that works, is the inclusion of Eric Morecambe as a character in his own right. It’s subtle, with the book being in third person for a long time until suddenly it slips into first and you realise that it’s Eric himself telling the story of Sid’s life, as if he really knew him and this was part of true comedy history. For a couple of chapters in the middle, then, Eric becomes the main character, talking about his relationship with Sid and his own career. This is an odd juxtaposition to include something that seems weirdly post-modern in a book where racism is taken as standard. Another highlight of the book is Morecambe’s references to other comedians of the day, sometimes revealing more than perhaps he means to regarding his feelings about them.

An interesting foray into literature from one of Britain’s best comics, but I can’t help thinking he should have kept to the stage.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Diabolical Club” by Stevyn Colgan (2019)

Leave a comment

“Joan Bultitude’s poodles were noisy, prone to biting and indiscriminate in their toilet habits, which meant that they were disliked by almost everyone who had ever had the misfortune of encountering them.”

If there are two things the English seem to manage better than anyone else (in my humble, and hyperbolic, opinion) it’s comedy and murder mysteries. Fortunately, the universe gifted us Stevyn Colgan, the love-child of Ngaio Marsh and Douglas Adams. The Diabolical Club is his second novel, and it’s as much of a riot as the first. Come with me to South Herewardshire.

As the novel opens, we find several disparate threads to deal with. First up, headmistress Joan Bultitude has just uncovered a skeleton on the grounds of Harpax Grange School, an exclusive girls’ school in the village of Nasely. Her new secretary, Phoebe Kingshaw, is actually working for Sir Giles Luscott-Whorne, an MP with whom she is also having an affair. Giles has sent her there to find any dirt she can on Bultitude, as Harpax Grange is his family’s old home and he wants it back. This is complicated enough, but there’s also been a resurgence lately in sightings of the Shaggy Beast, a wolf-like creature with an engorged penis that is said to stalk Black Dog Woods.

When Phoebe does find something at Harpax Grange that she considers to be “dynamite”, she begs Giles to come and meet her, but before she can pass on what she’s found, she is murdered for her knowledge. The police are called in and with Giles the prime suspect, his standing in society plummets. He recalls a retired detective, Frank Shunter, who solved the crime the last time Nasely had a murder, and hires him to prove his innocence. As the village works itself up into a frenzy, secrets are bound to come spilling out. It seems that village life isn’t as quiet and parochial as one would expect. Some of the locals are also planning on finding the Shaggy Beast once and for all, but will have to contend with the other residents of the woods – namely the doggers and the animal rights activists currently plotting to save Gertie’s Plash, a local pond, from being drained.

Colgan is a master of witticisms, almost rivalling his hero Douglas Adams in the way he slips in perfectly formed jokes at rapid fire speeds. He has a beautiful and effective way with words and metaphor, and isn’t afraid to give something a long set up for a killer punchline. He’s also a master at naming characters. In these pages we meet Oberon Tremblett, Janus Gugge, Gerry Waxleigh, Len Youlden, Raif Clyst and Charlie Barnfather. I’m not sure how many of them are real surnames, but if they’re not they all sound like they could be. The characters are complex and vibrant, and each name suits them perfectly. I don’t know how he does it, but in the same way that Trunchbull is the perfect name for a stern headmistress, so is Bultitude.

The murder mystery element of the story is also fun, although I admit I’d taken a guess early on and was proven to be right, so my journey was one of just waiting to find out how the murderer was caught, rather than who it was. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, however, as there are other things here that I could never have begun to guess would have happened, and it’s a rich tapestry of a world. It also feeds back into the first novel about reclusive crime writer Agnes Crabbe, but never entirely lets her dominate, meaning the story is clearly set in the same universe, and some elements will mean more to the reader if they’ve already read the first in the series, but is just as enjoyable without.

As a fun bonus, too, if you take a look at the page at the front of the book that showcases praise for Colgan’s previous novel, you might come across a quote taken from a very familiar blog, right there beneath quotes from Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig. I found it quite the honour.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“There’s Only Two David Beckhams” by John O’Farrell (2015)

Leave a comment

“Back when I was at school, the careers advisor asked me if I had any private hopes or dreams.”

My interest in sport is negligible. I’ve nothing against games, and even the Olympics is quite fun, but organised sport where billions upon billions of pounds are funnelled in to a handful of people running up and down a field – no chance. Football is that for me. I don’t understand the appeal. I don’t get the hours of coverage we need to explain why it matters that a ball did or didn’t go into a net. I don’t understand how teams can buy players like some kind of modern slave trade. I don’t get the appeal of a reheated meat pie and standing out in the drizzle, and I pray that if I ever have children, they don’t show any interest in the game. And yet, here I am, finishing up a book about football and admitting that it was all kinds of enjoyable.

Alfie Baker is a sports journalist who is the polar opposite of me in that he lives and breathes the beautiful game. We join him in 2022 at the Qatar World Cup, where against all expectations, England have made it into the final with a team that seems truly unbeatable. Alfie, however, has become convinced that there is more to this team than means the eye. Certain there is a scandalous secret behind the new line up, he finds himself threatened by higher powers in the government to shut down the investigation, but when the likes of Greg Dyke and Tony Blair start getting in touch, he realises that he really has uncovered something big. Perhaps it’s not just a coincidence that that midfielder performs just like David Beckham, and that defender uses the same techniques as Bobby Moore…

After years of wondering who the best English team would be, they’re finally here, but now Alfie is faced with a choice. All his life he’s wanted to see England win the World Cup – and they’re in the final against Germany, no less – but if he reveals the truth, it could see his dreams dashed. Will he choose love or duty? All’s fair in love, war and football.

From early on, you know exactly where it’s going, but you don’t mind. I’ve read John O’Farrell before and he’s effortlessly funny, no more so than here. I can’t pretend to understand every reference, and some of the prolonged scenes where there’s actually football being played and described in the painful detail that I can’t begin to be interested in are a bit much, but generally, this is a total riot, and not in the bad football hooligan way. The characters are daft, and the story weaves in real people with hilarious results. Packed with one-liners and full of silly ideas, it’s one of those books that I would press into many hands.

Some of the daftest stuff comes from the gap between the book’s publication (2015) and the current year (2020). O’Farrell has had to create the events of the 2018 World Cup, the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, and several other football championships to boot. (Question: why are there so bloody many?) He couldn’t have foreseen last year’s news that Russia wouldn’t be allowed to attend the 2022 World Cup, for one, but he does get a laugh from suggesting that the Vatican City finally field a team for the first time – only to beat England in their first outing.

It’s hugely satirical, pretty predictable, but too funny to dislike. It’s a love letter to a world that I will never be a part of, and there’s a lot in here about fairness, passion and patriotism, although the good kind. As Alfie himself says, “Patriotism is simple; you can be proud of anything and anywhere – just don’t ever use it to denigrate anyone else.” At the end of the day, that’s the best performance we can hope for.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Carry On, Jeeves” by P. G. Wodehouse (1925)

Leave a comment

“Now, touching this business of old Jeeves – my man, you know – how do we stand?”

Literature is full of iconic pairings. Benedick and Beatrice, Elizabeth and Darcy, Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Hastings, Thursday and Landen – all of them at their best when with one another. Jeeves and Wooster, however, are a cut above the others, having a symbiotic relationship that is for all time. It’s not a romance, and it’s not even really a friendship – this is a relationship drawn on professional lines – yet they stand together with loyalty and respect nonetheless.

Here are ten early stories about one of fiction’s greatest pairings, starting with the moment Jeeves walks into Bertie’s life and cures his hangover with a drink of his own invention. From that moment on, Bertie cannot live without Jeeves. Throughout these stories, Bertie finds himself in many a pickle, as do many of his friends including Sippy, Bingo, Bicky and Corky, and with little intellect of their own, they must routinely ask Jeeves for help. Jeeves, to his credit, always knows what to do and can always solve the problem thanks to his intelligence, wisdom, and a huge number of contacts with whom he is always in communication with. There are, as ever, a huge collection of overbearing aunts and dangerous misunderstandings in here too, and we even get to see Bertie out of his native England, with some the stories taking place in New York and one in Paris.

The collection also contains “Bertie Changes His Mind”, the only time that Jeeves himself narrates the story. It’s really funny to see things from the other side, as we get to see Jeeves as not just being an almost supernaturally good valet, but actually being incredibly manipulative, if always for a good cause. He does seem to genuinely like Bertie, and his actions are always for his own good, whether that be discouraging him from taking in children to liven up the house, or getting rid of his purple socks.

As ever, the stories are charmingly hilarious and while Bertie would probably begin to grate after a while if I knew him in real life, on the page he’s a delight. Completely able to accept that he’s a bit of a “chump” and lacking in imagination and brain power, he knows that he wouldn’t be able to cope without Jeeves. In one story, he finds himself without him for a while and realises that some men don’t have a “gentleman’s gentleman”. He genuinely can’t see how they could manage.

Jeeves and Wooster are a dynamite pairing, and each would be lost without the other. I’m still fairly new to the series and am enjoying dipping in to the back catalogue, but they are books to be enjoyed sparingly like a good glass of port at the end of the day, not knocked back like cheap vodka shots. Wodehouse is one of the few writers that can make me genuinely laugh out loud, and it’s always a delight to spend some time in the company of his characters.

Blissfully silly stuff.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas” by Adam Kay (2019)

Leave a comment

“Christmas is the pine-scented, tinsel-strewn timeout where, like it or not, everything just … stops.”

This is Going to Hurt was a proper game-changing book of the last decade. Adam Kay’s diaries of when he was a junior doctor in the underfunded, understaffed, underappreciated NHS made us all sit up and take notice of what we’d been taking for granted for too long. With humour and powerful emotion, he showed us what the realities of being a doctor were and the book, quite rightly, became a huge bestseller. Because of the popular demand, a sequel was inevitable, and this stocking-sized book details some extra bits of his diaries, this time focusing on the six Christmases he was working.

Using just as much humour, Kay regales us with further stories of his time on the ward, including the romantic turkey dinner in the staff room, making decorations out of medical equipment, why gaffer tape is not the best thing to embalm yourself with, how to behave when the Health Minister pays a visit, and what to get a colleague you hate when you draw them in the Secret Santa. It’s not all humour, though, as he also talks about the difficulty of talking about death, the emotional maelstrom caused by a miscarriage, and how the job surgically removes your social life.

There’s not much else I can say, really, just that you should read this. And you should read his other book too, if you’re one of the seven people who hasn’t. Heartbreaking, hilarious and honest in equal measure, it will open your eyes to the reality of working one of the most demanding (and rewarding) jobs in the world.

All hail our NHS – we’d never survive without it.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Wimbledon Poisoner” by Nigel Williams (1990)

Leave a comment

“Henry Farr did not, precisely, decide to murder his wife.”

Wimbledon, to most people around the world, is simply the place where the tennis happens. If you’re of a certain age, you may also associate it with the Wombles, the rodent rubbish collectors of the common. This fairly affluent area of south London became central to three of Nigel Williams’ books, known as The Wimbledon Trilogy. This suburban murder mystery is the first.

Forty-year-old solicitor Henry Farr is having something of a mid-life crisis. He has realised that his life has devolved to containing nothing but an unhappy marriage, a demanding daughter, an unfulfilling job, and weekend visits to Waitrose. The only thing that makes him happy is writing his magnum opus, The Complete History of Wimbledon, and even that has lost some of its lustre after it was rejected by a publisher. He manages to put most of the fault on his wife, Elinor, and decides that he needs to kill her. He debates strangling, electrocution and pushing her off a cliff before realising that his method should be poison, and before he knows what’s happened, he’s bought some thallium from the chemist and is smearing it onto that evening’s chicken.

However, Elinor is in one of her “moods”, and rejects dinner after all, much to the annoyance of Henry. Unfortunately, friend and local doctor Donald has popped in for dinner and eats the chicken instead, which proves to be his last act. Furious that his murder attempt has failed – and saddened by the death of his friend – Henry decides to make a second attempt. Soon, his friends and neighbours begin falling like dominoes and things begin to get out of control as he continues to fail in killing his wife. He needs to stop, not least because DI Rush from over the road has begun hanging around more often than usual, and Henry is sure that his taciturn nature is just a front for what he really suspects is happening in their quiet neighbourhood…

Suburbia is broadly assumed to be a very boring place indeed. It is a place between the city and the country where people have gone to raise families and absolutely nothing exciting happens at all. Therefore, in fiction, the suburbs are incredibly thrilling places, with all sorts of things going on in them, from wizards and vampires hiding among the normal people, to every other resident being a murderer. Williams really plays up the smallness of the situation, with Henry knowing everyone in the street and discussing them only in terms of their nickname and house number. We all have people in the street that we don’t really know the names of, but refer to as things like Jungian Analyst with the Winebox or Unpublished Magical Realist. Some of the names are brilliantly obscure and make little sense, their reasoning lost to time which feels very real. I think all of the action takes place in Wimbledon and it becomes the key focus of the novel in many ways.

Henry isn’t especially unlikable, but then again, not many of the characters are. You don’t wish any of them dead, sure, so you still have some empathy as the list of the dead grows, but you’d also be hard-pushed to find a solid reason to bring them back again. Of their time, while some of the characters have embraced feminism and environmentalism, most of the others are still small-minded, racist, sexist and unwilling to engage with modern society. I’ve recently binge-watched the entire series of Ever Decreasing Circles, and you get the same feeling of a “little England”, where everyone should be obliged to be white, straight, in steady employment and part of the local cricket team. Of course, at least there none of them were trying to kill each other (as far as we know).

The ongoing madness and the escalation of murders is done very well, and in some ways the book is a classic farce. Yet, as it becomes more objectively ridiculous, it stays engaging and still feels real. It’s effortlessly funny and it doesn’t need to reach far for the jokes, simply relying on observation and the interaction between the characters. We definitely need more comedy novels these days and while the likes of Jasper Fforde and Stevyn Colgan are doing their best, the wider publishing world seems to have little interest. The British are obsessed with murder and we pride ourselves on our humour – why are books like this not held in higher esteem or considered “worthy”? A mystery for the ages.

In the meantime, I recommend this delightfully dark and silly comedy of manners.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

“Oh, I Do Like To Be…” by Marie Phillips (2019)

Leave a comment

“It was a hot day in the summer, one of those days that glimmers like a mayfly, only to be trampled under the heels of an unseasonal downpour twenty-four hours later.”

Marie Phillips is responsible for one of my favourite books about the Greek myths – Gods Behaving Badly – so it was nice (if surprising) to see her appear on Unbound with a new novel. Once again she’s taking someone from history and putting them down in the modern world. Once again, she does it with style, humour and fun.

Billy is a modern day clone of William Shakespeare. His sister, Sally, is from the control group, cloned from a hair found on a bus seat. Since realising that his creator and mother Eleanor doesn’t think Billy will ever live up to the original, the pair have spent the last five years travelling around Britain, stopping in at seaside towns where Billy can seek inspiration and finally write a new Shakespeare play. Unfortunately, the town they’ve chosen this time has a problem – and the problem is Bill and Sal.

Bill and Sal have no idea that they are clones of Shakespeare and a random hair, but Bill is a successful writer anyway. When Billy meets Sal and Sally meets Bill, things begin to unravel with frantic speed as the pairs enter into a farce of epic proportions where no one is who they seem, misunderstandings are frequent, and it’s very possible that at least one of them is going mad…

I love a book with a silly premise, and having clones of Shakespeare wandering around in the modern world is a good one. It’s not been done since Jasper Fforde had a go, but with vastly different results. It takes a sharp mind – and, I imagine, a lot of post-its – to keep track of a farce like this and they’re much easier to do on stage and screen than on paper, but Phillips does wonders with the concept. Fittingly, it gives the whole thing a sense of a Shakespearean play, given he had a fondness for long-lost twins and confused identities.

Aside from the obvious plot, it’s also a great insight into the nature/nurture debate in psychology. Billy knows he is Shakespeare and then feels threatened and creatively crippled as he can’t ever do as well as the original. Bill knows nothing and yet manages to produce copious plays, poems and novels. I like the argument Eleanor makes that if Billy can’t do it, it proves that whoever it was who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, it wasn’t Shakespeare. I’m firmly on the side that says he did, but a friend and I got to debating last week. The book also seems to be a love letter to the seaside towns of Britain that most of us have visited at one time or another for family holidays as children and the like. It conjures up a world of ice cream vans, bucket and spade shops, and picture postcards that automatically stir up feelings of nostalgia.

Daft and wonderfully clever, as only Marie Phillips can do.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

Older Entries