Category Archives: Comedy

The Big Over Easy

The Big Over Easyby Jasper Fforde

Having previously experience of Jasper Fforde through his highly imaginative Thursday Next series I was well prepared for this first look at the work of the Nursery Crimes Division of Reading Police Department.

Actually, the best way to embark on one of Fforde’s literary adventures is to put your mind in to a sort of free-fall, leave all preconceptions, hang ups and preconceived logic in the locker room before entering. Believe me, the last thing you need when facing a world inhabited by the likes of DI Jack Spratt, DS Mary Mary and the late Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III is any kind of link to reality. It would just confuse things and might actually lead to psychological problems in later life. Best to play safe.

Now, you might think that any book that lists the three pigs amongst its characters would be aimed at the younger reader. You would be quite wrong. Despite the almost childish nature of some of the characters and themes, The Big Over Easy is a book for grown-ups, all be it, grown-ups with one toe still firmly holding on to childhood.

The story begins when DS Mary Mary, fresh from Basingstoke (which isn’t her fault) turn up at Reading Police HQ to take up her new role working alongside the long suffering DI Jack Spratt. We are introduced to a dysfunctional set of characters who at first glance you might hardly credit with the ability to solve a 12-piece jigsaw let alone a full blown murder enquiry. But first impressions can be deceptive, especially in a world where the measure of a policeman’s success is getting their cases published in Amazing Crime Stories. Simple solutions just don’t make the grade.

What follows is a tour-de-force of clever wit, painful puns and, surprisingly, a damned good whodunit. All of the characters are clearly drawn and easily visualised as they weave their way through a clever, although sometimes painfully twisted, plot.

For those who have already survived earlier expeditions in to the warped mind of Jasper Fforde, Big Over Easy is more of the same and you know what to expect. For Fforde virgins I suggest you make yourself comfortable and be prepared for a literary journey like to other. Put on your safety googles, dive in and enjoy.

 

The Humans

by Matt Haig

The Humans opens with Professor Andrew Martin walking naked through the wet streets of Cambridge. To say he is not feeling himself at that moment is something of an understatement. In more ways than one, he really isn’t himself.

The Andrew Martin that his family and friends know is no more. In his place is a very different Professor Martin for whom clothes are a mystery and food and drink sickening. Even his lovely wife and teenage son he finds repulsive.

For Andrew Martin is literally not of this world. He has been replaced by an alien sent to Earth with a simple mission – to prevent the dissemination of Professor Martin’s recent discovery by whatever means necessary. 

As a life-long reader of science fiction, I am quite at home with the concept of alien abductions, body snatchers and close encounters. They are de rigueur as far as sci-fi goes. What I am not used to is coming across these plots in a book that is very clearly not of that genre. “Humans” is not a science fiction story, just a thought-provoking and witty tale whose narrator just happens to come from another galaxy.

I have read plenty of books where we see alien life from the human perspective, but never before have I been asked to view humans from the alien point-of-view, at least not si directly.

Matt Haig’s unique approach is both funny and profound. As out unnamed alien discovers for itself, humans are much more complicated than a quick glance at our history or new headlines might imply. Certainly, there is more to humanity than conflict and greed. You just need to get up close to see it.

Although I was a little uncertain at first I very quickly realised that the odd nature of the book was one of it’s most compelling attractions. The inner conflict between the new Andrew Martin’s mission and his newly discovered humanity give the story its impetus. It is well written, very funny and ultimately revealing about human nature.

This book may not be for everyone – I know many people may find the concept of an alien amongst us difficult to deal with – but I found it very engaging and enjoyable. 

The Corner Shop In Cockleberry Bay (Cockleberry Bay #1)

The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bayby Nicola May

For me, romantic comedies like this are pure escapism. You know what is coming but are there for the ride, not the destination. The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay is the story of Rosa Larkin, a mid-twenties loner who unexpectedly inherits the run-down shop. She has no idea who her benefactor is or why they chose to leave the property in her hands. One thing she is certain of is that she is going to make the most of this opportunity.

Before arriving in the quiet Devon town of Cockleberry Bay, Rosa’s only friends are her long-suffering landlord Josh and her dog, Hot. Working to establish herself in her new home, ROsa makes new friends, deals with complicated relationships and finds new inner strength.

The plot is simple, the outcome pretty much inevitable, but the journey worth the fare. I really enjoyed this adventure with the troubled but undeniably intriguing Rosa Larkin. The characters are all interesting and well envisaged, the story well-paced and the style easy. A really enjoyable read. 

 

 

 

 

24/12/19 – 01/01/20

The Day That Never Comes (The Dublin Trilogy #2)

The Day That Never Comesby Caimh McDonnell

There is unrest in the fair city of Dublin. The locals are revolting, fired up by a combination of blatant injustice and police incompetence. In the middle of it all once again, and blissfully unaware of his role in the impending mayhem is Paul Mulchrone.

Fresh from his equally unintentional head-on collision with Dublin’s seedier side (The Man With One Of Those Faces), Paul just wants to patch things up with his girlfriend Bridgit and get his fledgeling detective agency off the ground.

And if that wasn’t enough to keep a young man busy, Paul is left looking after the city’s crankiest German Shephard, takes on his first job, following a particularly dodgy local businessman and tries to find his missing business partner, the infamous Bunny McGarry. 

Although his appearance in this book is minimal, Bunny McGary’s presence is felt throughout. In McGarry, author Caimh McDonnell has created one of the most unpredictable heroes in modern fiction. He may be one fo the god guys but there is almost no crime he won’t commit for the good of his friends. This time around though it is Bunny himself who needs saving from the bad guys.

Just an average day in the office for our reluctant hero. 

Like the first instalment, The Day That Never Comes is a wonderful mix of intriguing crime drama and slapstick comedy. It has a good pace, great characters and shed loads of natural Irish wit. 

Witch is How The Drought Ended (The Witch PI #29)

Witch is How The Drought Endedby Adele Abbott

Right from the top, I have to admit that this was something of an odd choice for me. Not the book itself as such, just the fact that I chose to read book #29 in a series before reading any others! The reasoning behind the purchase is lost on me now, but none-the-less, I ploughed on regardless. And to be honest, despite there being a few references and ongoing subplots I struggled with, the book itself was a refreshing summer read.

Jill Maxwell is not only a private investigator earning a good living in rural England, but she is also a witch, something that the majority of her clients know nothing about. Her cases are an interesting mix covering both worlds. She is simultaneously searching for a missing canal boat owner and investigating the mysteriously vanishing water in the fairy reservoirs. It is all in day’s work for this particular sleuth.

I found the style of writing very easy to read and the gentle humour made it a particular pleasure. In a typical PI style, the story is told in the first person and is very dialogue-driven. Ms Maxwell does not go in for long-winded descriptions or soliloquise. The writing is concise and well-paced. I particularly liked the way the mundane and magic worlds were interwoven.

All I need to do now is go back 28 books and see where it all began…

Something Rotten (Thursday Next #4)

by Jasper Fforde

If you are reading this but haven’t already read any of the previous three Thursday Next novels- STOP! You really shouldn’t be here. Book four is not a safe place for the uninitiated. There are all kinds of sinister traps and unpredictable plot twists that may result in a serious book related injuries. 

Something Rotten brings all the threads, plots, chronologically challenged events and Shakespeare’s favourite character (so he thinks) to some kind of conclusion.

Of course, in the world created by the at time warped but always funny imagination of Jasper Fforde, nothing can be taken at face value.

In the previous books we have seen the barriers between fiction and reality come tumbling down. Even concepts such as linear time have been challenged and found wanting. Nothing is sacred in a world where croquet attracts audiences in the millions, Shakespeare is a national hero, George Formby is the President of England and where literary crimes are investigated by a dedicated special police department.

At the centre of his, Thursday’s fourth outing is the dashing young Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. His appearance just as the government embarks on a campaign of anti-Danish propaganda is more than a little awkward, but ultimately the least of Thursday’s worries. Not only must she find a way to save Hamlet from a hostile merger, but she is also trying to bring back her eradicated husband whilst struggling to prevent Armageddon by ensuring that Swindon win the Croquet Superhoop. 

Something Rotten is an action-packed adventure that does not disappoint in any way. For fans of Jasper Fforde, it is just what we have come to expect. For the uninitiated (why are you still reading this?), go out there and buy the set – you won’t be disappointed. 

A Man With One Of Those Faces (The Dublin Trilogy #1)

A Man With One Of Those Facesby Caimh McDonnell

A Man With One Of Those Faces is a rare gem of a book. The combination of plot, crime drama, a cast of unlikely but wonderfully crafted characters and the unmistakable natural Irish wit make this a real treat.

Paul Mulchrone os one of life’s underachievers. OK, he’s lazy. His life is uneventful and lacking in any form of ambition of direction. That is until the day someone tries to kill him. Not the first time though; that was just a misunderstanding. But when the second attempt results in the bomb squad being called out, ambition to stay alive) and direction (anywhere but here!) are almost all he has. 

Almost, but not quite all. On the run from unknown killers the only person he can trust, all be it reluctantly, is the person who got him into this in the first place, Nurse Brigit Conroy whos love for crime novels proves to be no help at all. 

At the heart of the story is a fast-paced thriller. Stumbling across a 30-year-old crime brings all kinds of characters out of the woodwork and as DS Bunny McGary wades in with his hurling stick, it all begins to get a little messy.

Driving the story along is a humour that is distinctly Irish. here is a wonderful sense of the ridiculous and some lovely slapstick moments that kept me chuckling the whole way through.

There is no doubt that Caimh is a natural storyteller and I was captivated by both the story and the characters, particularly the unpredictable DS McGarry. I was left wanting to read more which is just as well as there are a further three books in this trilogy. I am looking forward to reading the rest.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Harold Fry #1)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fryby Rachel Joyce

Recently retired brewery rep Harold Fry lives a quiet life with his wife Maureen in their South Devon home. He is a man of routine and simple pleasures with no discernable ambition other than to make other people happy. He never goes anywhere or does anything. Not, you might think, the most likely type of character to be the hero of a book. And if it had not been for the letter, you would be right. For Harold, the note he receives from along forgotten work colleague, Queenie Hennessy is the unexpected catalyst that changes everything.

It is not the letter itself, or its contents, that turn Harold’s life upside down. 

He had only left the house to post his short and simple reply, but as he walked down the roads to the post box, something changed within him. He continues past the post box, starting on a journey that would change not only his life but those of his wife, Queenie and many others who take inspiration from this strange man’s pilgrimage.

Not that he sees it that way. For Harold, it just something he has to do. 

What makes his journey so different and inspiring is that he is doing it on foot. Walking six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed would be a challenge for anyone, but for a 65-year-old man who, on his own admittance does not walk, wearing only a pair of yaughting shoes and with no map, compass or phone, this trip was never going to be easy.

“The Unlikely Pilgrimage…” is a touching and entertaining tale of one man’s journey of self-discovery. Through the people he meets and recollections of his own long-buried memories, Harold learns again what it means to love and be loved.

The highs and lows of Harold’s journey are both entertaining and thought-provoking. I coldn;t help but have some sympathy for the poor man. I felt I understood his confusion and frustrations, although I like to think that I could get my own life in order without all the blisters and nights spent on park benches.

A thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking book. 

The Herring In The Library (Elsie and Ethelred Mystery #3)

The Herring In The Libraryby L C Tyler

It all begins with Elsie and Ethelred enjoying a quiet game of Cluedo. As usual, Elsie is cheating, making up the rules as she goes along, very much as she does in life. By contrast, Ethelred plays by the rules and loses out as a result. Although I don’t think that she believes that rules are made to be broken the are certainly optional and are to be overlooked if they become inconvenient. Elsie Thirkwttle is a literary agent and self-proclaimed chocoholic, a juggernaut of a woman who takes no prisoners when it comes to getting what and where she wants. 

Ethelred Tressider is one of Elsie’s long-suffering authors who seems to have little enthusiasm for his chosen profession. He has been fairly successful, publishing novels under several pseudonyms, but he dreams of one day doing something serious under his own name. Elsie is not so sure.

This is the third outing for this unlikely literary pair who have developed an uncanny habit of being in the wrong place at the right time. In this case, the Cluedo theme merges into their real lives following the mysterious death of Ethelred’s former school pal, Sir Robert Muntham at a dinner party at Muntham Hall.

As a crime writer, Ethelred is expected to use his skills to help solve the age-old “locked room” mystery. But, as those who have read the first two books will know, Ethelred’s grasp of simple police procedures and interview techniques are not as honed as one might expect.

The same cannot be said of Elsie who’s natural scepticism and bulldog approach find her unravelling the truth while Ethelred is still blundering around the dark alleyways the lovely Lady Muntham has lead him down. 

Not only is “The Herring In The Library” a very funny and enjoyable tale, there is also a nicely plotted murder mystery to follow. I particularly enjoy the way these books switch narrative between Ethelred and Elsie. Their polar opposite observations and opinions make the whole thing so much more enjoyable than seeing things from one point of view. These are very much about the pair, not the individuals.

And as a treat, we also get a glimpse for the first time of one of Ethelred’s recurring characters, Master Thomas, whose latest adventure bears an uncanny resemblance to the predicament he finds himself in at Munford Hall. All in all, another excellent outing for the odd couple of crime fiction. 

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Oveby Fredrik Backman

Every now and again you come across a book that really says something to you, and for me, A Man Called Ove is just such a book. From the very first page, I felt I understood Ove. To many of the people he meets he comes across as a grumpy old man, but, as is often the case, there is more to him than first meets the eye.

For Ove, life is simple and made up of two types of people: those who drive Saabs, and twits. And there are a lot of twits about! 

As the book progresses we learn more about Ove’s past and the events that shaped the man he became. The biggest single event being the day he met his wife-to-be Sonja. To everyone who knew them, Ove and Sonja were an odd couple, like chalk and cheese. But to Ove, Sonja was his world and without her, nothing makes sense any more.

But with the arrival of new neighbours, Ove’s life is about to take on a whole new meaning. 

A Man Called Ove is a delightful and very moving story. Fredrik Backman has a real gift for blending humour and pathos in a totally compelling way. There is a slapstick element to the story that makes the tragedy even more profound. For me, it is one of the best books I have read this year and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.