The Damned Busters/Costume Not Included by Matthew Hughes. Book review


Angry Robot, p/b, £7.99 ea./ebook, £5.49,

Reviewed by David Brzeski

Chesney Anstruther is an actuary. He is also a functionally autistic nerd. He has all the classic nerd traits. No social skills; bullied at school; geeky job that fascinates him, while interesting no one else; failure with women; loves superhero comics.

When he accidentally causes Hell to go on strike, something has to be done! Satan offers him a one-off deal, which results in the weirdest superhero duo ever.

It reminded me somewhat of the work of the late Robert Asprin; to the extent that I was imagining the characters as if they were drawn by Phil Foglio, the illustrator of many of Asprin’s books and comic adaptations. In the dealings with Satan and Hell I also saw some similarities with Andy Hamilton’s brilliant ‘Old Harry’s Game’ radio series, which is high praise in my book.

That’s not to say it as riotously laugh out loud funny as either of the aforementioned works. They were out-and-out comedy, whereas this is comedy-drama. The plot, which combines elements of superhero comics, police procedurals, political thrillers and religious satire is every bit as important as the humour.

‘To Hell and Back’ book one: ‘The Damned Busters’ is great fun.

‘To Hell and Back’ book two: ‘Costume Not Included’ is even better.

I can see a lot of fundamentalist (read humourless) Christians hating these books. I could see them being pulled from certain school libraries in the USA (assuming they ever got in there in the first place). The overall plot of both books explains in a very amusing fashion, all the inconsistencies in the Bible. Creation is a work in progress and God is constantly revising it, but what happens to all the material that was excised from previous drafts?

Poor Chesney Anstruther has enough trouble coping with the world around him as it is. Now he has to deal with demons, criminals, police officers (corrupt and otherwise), politicians, ambitious televangelists, a new girlfriend, Satan and his mother!

I recommend these books highly and will certainly be reading book three in the series, which has recently landed on my virtual review pile, fairly soon.