The Stranger Times #2: This Charming Man – C.K. McDonnell

On her first day, Hannah’s boss shot himself in the foot. It’s now been three months since Hannah joined The Stranger Times as assistant editor and she’s just returned from two week’s leave (divorce holidays aren’t especially fun), only to have a close encounter with the office toilet. It escaped the building via an upper window. Never a dull moment. 

‘Rumour has it the sun’s come out and people are losing their minds.’ 

Her boss, Vincent Bancroft, editor at large, remains “‘challenging’, in the way a cat sanctuary might use the word to describe a moggy that attempted to rip your face off while you slept.”

Banecroft, Stella, the paper’s purple haired intern, and Manny, their printer, are all currently living at the office. And let’s not forget the spirit that cohabits with Manny. Rounding out the team are Grace, the office manager, Ox, the ufologist, and Reggie, the paper’s paranormal consultant.

So, having been introduced to all of the “woo-woo nonsense” that’s hidden in plain sight in Manchester in the first book, what delights does this sequel contain? Vampires. 

‘They don’t exist.’ 

Sure, tell that to the people who never signed up to be blood donors.

In the course of their investigation, we meet Cogs 

‘Would it kill you to lie?’
‘Actually, dear lady, it would.’ 

and the dog that regularly puts him in his place. The dog quickly became my favourite character.

Because this is The Stranger Times, there’s more to the investigation than meets the eye. Which eye, I hear you ask? Touché. If you didn’t ask, I’d suggest you read the first book for the inside scoop.

I love this dysfunctional team and their investigations. The case of the non-sparkly vampires does have a resolution but that doesn’t mean the vampires are all going the way of their reflection in a mirror. I’m almost certain more blood will be spilled when we catch up with the strangeness in the next book. If not, though, there’s plenty of territory left to cover in this series, from questions about individual team members to the conspiracy theories I’m formulating about the Founders.

With more farts than your average book, a smelly gun and inexplicable Spam, you’ll be grateful this read isn’t presented in Smell-O-Pages. I was delighted to learn how to swear by number and I definitely need to hear more about the woman who was chased by the spectral dinosaur. 

I’m already looking forward to the third book.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be at the Spoonful of Sugar with Stanley.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Vampires do not exist. Everyone knows this. So it’s particularly annoying when they start popping up around Manchester… 

Nobody is pleased about it. Not the Founders, the secret organisation for whom vampires were invented as an allegory, nor the Folk, the magical people hidden in plain sight who only want a quiet life. And definitely not the people of Manchester, because there is nothing more irksome than being murdered by an allegory run amok. Somebody needs to sort this out fast before all Hell really breaks loose – step forward the staff of The Stranger Times.

It’s not like they don’t have enough to be dealing with. Assistant Editor Hannah has come back from getting messily divorced to discover that someone is trying to kidnap a member of their staff and while editor Vincent Banecroft would be delighted to see the back of any of his team, he doesn’t like people touching his stuff – it’s the principle of the thing. 

Throw in a precarious plumbing situation, gambling debts, an entirely new way of swearing, and a certain detective inspector with what could be kindly referred to as ‘a lot of baggage’ and it all adds up to another hectic week in the life of the newspaper committed to reporting the truth that nobody else will touch.

In Other News: Stories From The Stranger Times – C.K. McDonnell

I loved The Stranger Times and was gearing up for the sequel, This Charming Man, when I suddenly remembered I never read these short stories. They’re the perfect reminder of what I loved about the first book and I’m even more keen to read the sequel now.

A Dog’s Life

It’s not uncommon for a dog to eat something it probably shouldn’t have. What poor Rubble ate definitely wasn’t on the menu and it’s up to Marcia to extract it, one way or another. 

‘Dogs cannot do that. I paid attention in veterinary school – I really did. Believe me, if that was a thing, I’m sure I’d remember.’ 

Love and Death in the Time of Planned Engineering Works

Karen just wants to cross the bridge. Well, that’s not all she wants to do, but it’s one of the things. 

‘This is my bridge and you can’t cross it without my say so.’ 

The Blitz Spirits

Written at the beginning of the pandemic, this short story shows that even ghosts find the news depressing. Tommy and the other ghosts at the station have different skillsets, all of which are useful in the right circumstances. 

This was his life now, bobbing and weaving, doing all he could to avoid the living. 

The Rain

Rain (obviously), chips and footnotes. 

But there are some things that we do not talk about. Some things you let be because the other options are worse. 

I enjoyed all of the stories but my favourite was, without a doubt, A Dog’s Life.

One of the best clothing descriptions in recent memory: 

She was wearing an odd mix of black and pink. It was as if she’d been covered in glue, shoved in a cannon and fired through the wardrobes of a goth and a Disney princess. 

You too can get a copy of this free ebook by signing up for Caimh’s newsletter at https://thestrangertimes.co.uk.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A collection of wonderfully weird short stories from the world of The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell. This free e-book of this collection is only available to people who sign up for Caimh’s monthly newsletter.

The Stranger Times – C.K. McDonnell

Hannah’s new boss shot himself in the foot during her job interview and that’s not even the weirdest thing that’s happened this week. She’s just joined The Stranger Times, a newspaper that reports “the weird and wonderful from around the world ‘and beyond’”. Think Fortean Times.

‘You’d be surprised what I’d believe. It’s been a hell of a week.’

Hannah is the new Tina, AKA, assistant editor. Her boss (the guy with the new hole in his foot), Vincent Banecroft, is “foul-smelling, foul-mouthed and foul-tempered”. Banecroft lives in the office, as does Manny (clothing optional), who’s in charge of the paper’s printing department.

Grace, the office manager, spends much of her time managing Banecroft’s mouth. Stella, whose job title I’m still unsure of, lives with Grace and may be my favourite character. Reggie is the paper’s paranormal consultant and Ox is their ufologist and “general paranoid”. The paper is owned by Mrs Harnforth.

Then there’s Simon, who desperately wants to work for The Stranger Times but is having trouble getting past their No Simon policy.

Meanwhile, the police are attempting to investigate some events that aren’t exactly in their jurisdiction, events that are definitely strange enough for The Stranger Times.

‘Right,’ said Banecroft, ‘let’s kick off this parade of inadequacy, then, shall we?’

This book was so much more fun than I’d expected. I got sucked straight in and was entertained the entire time. I enjoyed getting to know Hannah and her new colleagues. There was a Big Bad doing Big Bad things and a whole bunch of goings on that regular people aren’t aware of.

While I was introduced to various ‘Types’ and magical bits and pieces, I don’t really have my head around this part of the world yet. I’m hoping the gaps in my knowledge will be filled in more when I read the sequel.

I really enjoyed the newspaper clippings scattered throughout the book; my favourite was Homework Eats Dog. I would definitely subscribe to this newspaper. There’s an article about a haunted toilet in Falkirk!

‘It’s in a pub. People claim that it speaks – issuing death threats, ominous predictions and …’

‘And?’

‘Shortbread recipes.’

There was a bit of a disjointed feel to some of the chapters. Sometimes it took me a page or two to figure out which part of the story I was reading about, especially when a new character or plot line was introduced. It all came together in the end though.

Some questions were answered in this book but there were a bunch that are being held over for the sequel. I expect I’ll be rereading this book a little closer to the sequel’s publication date.

The employees at The Stranger Times are a bunch of oddballs but they’re my kind of oddballs. I think I’d fit right in with this team.

‘The world is not what you thought it to be.’

Bonus content: If you sign up for the newsletter at https://thestrangertimes.co.uk you’ll snag In Other News, a free ebook.

Content warnings include mention of alcoholism, death by suicide, drug addiction and homophobic and racist slurs. I didn’t feel like the homophobic and racist slurs added anything to the story and, although they were challenged, I wondered what the point was of including them in the first place.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable.

At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed husk of a man who thinks little of the publication he edits. His staff are a ragtag group of misfits. And as for the assistant editor … well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got problems of her own.

When tragedy strikes in her first week on the job The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious investigating. What they discover leads to a shocking realisation: some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker forces than they could ever have imagined.