The Stranger Times

C.K. McDonnell

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

Hannah Willis is struggling. It turns out that throwing parties for her wealthy businessman husband doesn’t count as work experience. When she discovers that he’s been sleeping with basically every woman around (including their marriage counsellor!), she burns his clothes, leaves with nothing more than her phone and a few clothes, and starts divorce proceedings.

In dire need of an income, she applies for the position advertised in the local paper, oddly worded as it is. Fortunately, the Stranger Times is in equally dire need of an Assistant Editor – it seems that the foul-mouthed, alcoholic shambles of an Editor is causing a high staff turnover in that position – so Hannah finds herself joining the team of misfits and weirdos at Manchester’s weekly purveyor of stories such as ‘Nessie is the Father of My Child’, and ‘Virgin Mary Halts Terrorist Attack’.

When a mysterious American comes to the city, unexplainable things begin to happen. Luckily, those are just the sort of stories that The Stranger Times exists for…

I have an admission to make. I enjoyed this book so much that I accidentally read it straight through and forgot to take any notes, so I’ve had to read it a second time to be able to review it. C.K. McDonnell is a new author to me, so I had no expectations other than from the back of the book blurb on the review site. I initially thought this was a debut novel, but the author usually writes under the name Caimh McDonnell, and has a fair few titles to his name already.

I honestly can’t think of anything remotely negative to say about The Stranger Times. The story rolls along at a good pace, and the characters are just brilliant. It’s oddly satisfying to watch Hannah find her feet and grow into herself as a discrete person, shaking off the dutiful wife persona and taking on the bullish and obnoxious Editor, Banecroft. Grace’s character is fantastic, too, and I can’t be the only one who’s worked with a Grace – the secretary or office manager who’s got eyes in the back of her head, ears in every wall, and a heart the size of a small country, and without whom nobody would be able to run the company.

The style reminds me of Heide Goody and Iain Grant, and a little of Douglas Adams in Dirk Gentley mode. It’s daft enough to keep a smile on your face but not so daft that you lose the darkness inherent in the story. The Stranger Times sets a solid foundation for a substantial series, and I can’t wait for the next instalment.

I received an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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