This Charming Man by C. K. McDonnell
Bantam Press, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Although many beings from myth and legend are real and hiding in plain sight, vampires are definitely not one of them. So why are they attacking people in Manchester and leaving a trail of chaos and fear through the city? And why is no one reporting the attacks for what they are?
Only the journalists of The Stranger Times are willing to believe in vampires and report the facts even though they know it will upset the mysterious Founders who control society behind the scenes or the Folk who are living among us. But how are they supposed to investigate something that no one, not even the magical beings themselves, believe are real?
Set a few months after the events of The Stranger Times, we pretty much pick up where the first book left off. Now, if you haven’t read The Stranger Times (which I hadn’t at the time), this isn’t a problem as there is some recapping in the first few chapters, bringing you up to speed. Also, there are two story strands; the first is the vampire element, the second is the overarching story regarding Stella, the youngest member of the team. There are some nuances I only picked up on after going back and reading the first book, like why a police detective has an invisible parasitic eyeball coming out of his head. That said, I still enjoyed This Charming Man.
The narrative is told from numerous viewpoints, possibly too many for a book of this size and breakneck pace. There are a few ‘vampires’, the newspapers staff members, and some side characters, such as the vampires’ victims and a freelance journalist who has history with Banecroft. Its breathless pace reminded me of Jodi Taylor, yet, much like Taylor, there is structure to the chaos, and we are led to a satisfying conclusion despite the twists and turns.
This Charming Man explores the theme of male attitudes towards women. The story orbits a dating app, the ‘vampires’ mainly prey on vulnerable women with varying degrees of success, and Hannah finalises her emancipation from her cheating, fraudster husband. This is countered with Stoker, the freelancer, who was tricked into a compromising situation then discovered by his wife, and Banecroft’s continued self-destruction because of his wife’s untimely death.
I can’t write a review of This Charming Man without mentioning that it made me laugh out loud, a rare thing for a book to do. Banecroft reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s Mustrum Ridcully from the Unseen University, simultaneously brutish and thoughtful, selfish but very protective of his staff. He is also the main reason for the book’s chaotic feel. Banecroft is incredibly intelligent and more experienced as an investigative journalist than the other, so he makes leaps ahead of the other characters and doesn’t explain his reasoning. He moves through the book like an odorous, foul-mouthed whirlwind, one step ahead of the others but moves at their pace, so they learn.
There will be more to McDonnell’s The Stranger Times series, which makes me very happy. The core characters are likeable for all their unusual personality traits, and their interactions are laugh-out-loud funny. Definitely a must for anyone who loves quirky urban fantasy and sweary newspaper editors.