The Stranger Times – C.K. McDonnell

*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, Transworld Books – Random House UK and NetGalleyThe decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

Blurb: There are dark forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular), so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them . . .

A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable.

At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed husk of a man who thinks little of the publication he edits. His staff are a ragtag group of misfits. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got problems of her own.

When tragedy strikes in her first week on the job The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious investigating. What they discover leads to a shocking realisation: some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker forces than they could ever have imagined.

The Stranger Times is the first novel from C.K. McDonnell, the pen name of Caimh McDonnell. It combines his 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.

This is going to be a really hard review to write. Mainly because my notes for this consist mainly of words like ‘fantastic’ and ‘bloody brilliant’, held together by abundant swathes of exclamation marks. I might as well have just drawn a big smiley face and left it at that!

Briefly attempting coherence: The Stranger Times is a humorous, paranormal mystery-slash-urban fantasy which had me grinning from the very first page. Our main character, Hannah Drinkw… Willis, is having a hard time, which gets weirder rather than easier when she applies for a position at her local paranormal newspaper offices. There we – and she – meet the most incredibly entertaining and lovable band of misfits imaginable. There is motherly Grace, rebellious Stella, comedy duo Reggie and Ox, the unemployable Simon and, presiding over them all is the impossibly obnoxious Vincent Banecroft (channelling Bernard Black).

In very little time at all, Hannah goes from doggedly humouring her new employers (from what seems to be a form of existential shock), to investigating a spate of mysterious local deaths, to facing down monsters with little more than a stapler and the office coffee mugs. Luckily, not all of her new colleagues are what they initially appear to be. Or maybe unluckily, depending on who you ask.

C.K. McDonnell’s worldbuilding is fantastic; I am desperately keen to find out all about the Founders and the different types of Folk. I adore that he takes tired old standard monsters like werewolves and vampires and spins them into something completely new and far more interesting. To be fair, his character development and plot-wrangling are ‘bloody brilliant’ too and the pacing is spot on. I have no criticisms at all… not even those little niggly nitpicking ones!

This book was an utter joy from beginning to end. I have already pre-ordered my hardback copy (Happy Unbirthday to me!) and feel a strong urge to sit pressing F5 repeatedly until I see a sequel pop up for purchase. Ideally it will then be the second book in a very long-running series… I will beg if I have to!

As well as the Storn interview, Hannah had another one lined up for today – mainly because she had forgotten to cancel it. The advert on the website had been, well, different: ‘Publication seeks desperate human being with capability to form sentences using the English language. No imbeciles, optimists or Simons need apply.’

– C.K. McDonnell, The Stranger Times

Find more from C.K. McDonnell (or Ciamh McDonnell) at his website here, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

The Stranger Times is out on 14th January 2021 – pre-order your copy here!


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