The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell

Recommended for
Read October  2021
★   ★   ★   1/2

Fun but awkward. I was intrigued by this one because of a friend’s review who thought it may be appreciated by Aaronovitch fans. I’d disagree on the fan base, as it’s really quite lightweight in both sense and humor–really, almost Pratchett-like at times. My brain must also have recognized that the author, C.K. McDonnell is the one who wrote the very funny A Man with One of Those Faces (and it’s significantly less-funny sequel). It’s very clearly urban fantasy with a light touch, spoofing off that Men in Black bit about reading the dailies seriously.

Men In Black hotsheet scene

Hannah Willis is desperate for a job after being ostracized for an accidental arson (she was burning her ex’s clothes). So desperate, in fact, that she finds herself answering this ad:

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

When the weekly The Stranger Times offers her the job as assistant editor, she takes it, even when editor Vincent Banecroft seems to be the rudest and most callous person she’s ever met.

“‘You were telling me what this job entails.’ ‘No, that doesn’t sound like something I’d do.’ ‘You were explaining how you’ve been emasculated by your own office manager.’ ‘Before that.’”

At least Grace, the office manager can keep him in line. At first the team is only chasing the story of a suspicious death, but when a wannabe reporter is found dead of apparent suicide, the entire staff gets drawn into crime-solving.

“It turned out that the ‘freedom of the press’ was what Banecroft called his lock-picking kit.”

It’s a great premise and the voice is usually entertaining with a large side-helping of irony. Hannah is a rather sad, bedraggled stand-in for the reader and provides a good entry point into the less normal aspects of the world.

Narrative was the most challenging part of the story. It literally switches through most of the appearing cast in a third-person limited voice, from arch-villain to police inspector to victim to Hannah. I’m not sure why the author didn’t just do a more omniscient point of view and worker harder on transitions, but I definitely felt like continuity struggled. (Actually, once I realized it was the same author, it made more sense, as the majority of his career seems to have been in script-writing for television).

My other challenge comes from the plot implications in the decision to include the antagonist-team and the perspectives of those they murder. Since we’re privy to the steadily increasing number of victims, we’re more aware of the potential danger than any of the characters in the book. Using their viewpoints makes for a strange emotional conflict between humor and the increasing body count. It was also uncomfortable to be so concerned about the people being kidnapped and killed, even if some of them were jerks.

But, the ensemble group is a lot of fun and they all have their own backstories that will undoubtedly make for increasingly interesting interactions. I think the re-read potential is probably solid, and I’ll be checking out the follow-up book as well.

“‘Yes,’ said Sturgess, in a way that acknowledged a lot of words had just been spoken.”

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Urban fantasy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell

  1. Ola G says:

    Hmm sounds interesting though pretty uneven. And those different POVs do sounds as if they were detracting from the experience overall.

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