Book Review

Review: The Stranger Times by C. K. McDonnell

We’re only 2 weeks into the year and I’m already feeling quite MIA. We’re also buying our first house (and picking up the keys tomorrow??) so everything feels a bit up in the air at the moment. And there are now packing boxes everywhere.

Anyway, back to the book! The Stranger Times was a fun combination of urban fantasy sleuthing with something that feels like a Miéville/Gaiman dejá vu. Except that it is really, really hard to write well like both of those authors. So instead I got something that felt too familiar to be wholly enjoyable that used snark and characters being nasty to each other in a way that really jarred with me.

Title: The Stranger Times
Author: C. K. McDonnell
Pages: 320
Publisher: Bantam Press
Publication Date: 14th January 2021
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher

Rating: 3.5 stars (rounded down to 3)

About the Book

The Stranger Times collects stories of the weird and wonderful from around the world. But when ones of its wannabe reporters stumbles on something truly supernatural, the newspaper and its whole staff are pulled into investigating not only paranoid mumblings of the local lunatics, but the very paranormal stand-off between Good, Evil and something inbetween.

My Review

We’re brought into the story thanks to Hannah (I always find it strange seeing a name-sake in a book!), who has only her second ever job interview at the paper. It quickly turns out that there’s a good reason for that, as she is escaping a marriage from a wealthy, philandering husband. Hannah is, in theory, our voice of reason, to bring the reader into the story.

But instead of an office of journalistic professionals, she finds a motherly office manager, drunk and swearing editor, bumbling but well-meaning journalists, and a sulky girl in the corner. It’s delightful havoc to meet all of these characters who, as an ensemble, are hilarious.

And instead of serious reporting and editing, Hannah finds herself having to have showdowns with the editor, listen to answerphone messages of delightful mundane paranormal insanity and take notes from the monthly line-up of the local crazies.

The actual investigation, first into the murder of a homeless man and then into a young hopeful reporter, seems to trundle along next to the characters. It’s not something they are actively investigating, because they don’t know enough to investigate. Instead they are stumbling into situations, with the main events of the story taking place right at the end, rather than burning all the way through.

Overall, these are all things that I can cope with, however, and seems to match with other things that I’ve read in the same urban fantasy, first-book-in-a-series genre.

There were some things that crossed the line from banter into snark and further on into … I wouldn’t call it racism, but conscious stereotyping instead? The cast is diverse, if you list them all out, but the way their characters are presented are anything but. For example, there’s a trippy Rastafarian style character with white locks who runs the printer in the basement whilst getting high. The Black Office Manager literally mothers everyone. And there are a few times (tongue-in-cheek calling out someone’s race, accidentally ‘assuming’ that one character is another’s daughter because they are both Black and live together). I get that these instances are added in order to call out one character for being rude and obnoxious, another for an ‘easy mistake to make’. But is there really any need for it? Particularly when it’s just used to snub-nose political correctness?

The same goes for the villain – his nastiness is portrayed through inhumane and ignorant and abusive actions. And a whole lot of pantomime soliloquy-ing at the end. That’s a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 villain, not a proper one.

It meant that, although I enjoyed the story, there were too many things that grated on me. It felt like the author was aiming for edgy Pratchett and just missing the mark for today’s audience.

I’d like to think that these were first novel in a series mistakes, but were they really necessary?

I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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