Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
The publisher’s blurb on the cover describes this novel as a black-humoured fantasy thriller. This is the usual hyperbole of someone wishing to sell a book. This does the story a disservice. This is a good, solid tale that proceeds at a steadily energetic yet entertaining pace to an agreeable conclusion.
Our hero Adam renovates houses for a living. He is not a particularly wholesome character but he explains himself well, so you get to see things from his point of view. His social circle like to think he is a property developer but he feels his life is more prosaic as this was something he fell into in order to turn a crust. This is not something which is that unusual these days. This is where the humour cracks in as here is self-deprecating Adam all too aware of the petty snobberies of our society which he is more than happy to play up to. It is a fairly good exposure of contemporary opportunism and related vulgarities.
In the course of renovating his current property, the first outside London, he discovers a hidden cellar which contains a metal chest with an old book in it. This reviewer had more luck when he found his maternal grandfather’s stash in a steel box in a cellar: it contained fivers. Not exactly life imitating art but we all get the idea! This old book just contains magical spells. Whilst horsing around with his two chums, Dick and Charlie, Adam manages to change Dick into a crayfish. He desperately tries to change the crayfish back into Dick but is frustrated by a sudden storm which manages to wash the crayfish away. Panic ensues. There then follows a farcical sequence of events around the missing Dick in which the police become increasingly inquisitive. They even dig up Adrian’s recently concreted patio looking for a dead body but finding none. Then they also manage to blow up Dick’s car in the railway station car-park for fear it was a car bomb.
However, the story about Dick recedes into the background when it gradually becomes apparent to Adam that someone else has an interest in his book of spells. His house is burgled and the book taken. He is then subject to continued police harassment as they rush around on the assumption that Dick has been murdered. Not an unreasonable supposition until Charlie breaks down and tells the police the truth that Dick has been turned into a crayfish. Charlie is then detained as a vulnerable person.
The attentions of the police were Adam’s least concern as he gets roughed up, his new car is keyed and his attempts at becoming re-employed by the English language college that had previously dismissed him become uncertain. He even seeks to buy a share in this college but it all becomes very complicated. Eventually Adam comes to the correct conclusion that his opponent is a rather powerful black magician who is quite happy to use intimidation and violence to get his own way. This unpleasant fellow, an Australian with the cliché name of Bruce was seeking ownership of the magical book as his grandfather had written it.
It takes some time for the story to mature with this revelation but once out as it were, the tale wakes up and evolves very quickly into a real page-turner. Now I enjoy a book like that which suddenly comes to life and takes over. It is good value for money. What is more after the denouement there is a long conclusion to the plot with all the unresolved ends being neatly tied up. In all a very fascinating and fulfilling read even though it takes its time in committing to the reader.