What saves the book from being just a retread of rather familiar material is McDonnell’s blisteringly comic-caustic tone. The one-liners zing, the dialogue is a tennis match of witty banter, and the jokes and characterisation are often refreshingly non-PC.
Standup comedian and writer Caimh McDonnell’s first novel as CK McDonnell, The Stranger Times (Bantam, £14.99), has already been optioned for TV, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a filmic romp with great characters, a jet-propelled plot, and a winning premise. The Stranger Times is a down-at-heel newspaper staffed by a gallery of lovable hacks and edited by a cynical, splenetic alcoholic. Based in a derelict Mancunian church, the paper covers wacky supernatural, occult and bizarre stories – think the Fortean Times run on a shoestring.
McDonnell packs jokes into every layer of his writing — narration, description, dialogue — and they always propel, rather than hold up, the business of storytelling, which is the real test of a comic author. (Take that crack about the Mancunian climate; it gets a laugh, but it also tells you that the character in question is ever so slightly out of his depth.) He’s also got an enjoyable sense of the macabre; these dark forces are not messing around. There’s no disgrace in being formulaic when the formula is good, and The Stranger Times is ripping entertainment from start to finish.