Fiction Reviews

Relight My Fire

(2024) C. K. McDonnell, Transworld, £18.99, hrdbk, 517pp, ISBN 978-0-857-50535-4


This is the fourth book in the increasingly excellent ‘Stranger Times’ series of comedy-horror stories centred on a Manchester based Fortean Times style investigators of the paranormal and the downright weird. This one takes up where book three (2023’s Love Will Tear Us Apart) left off, and reading this without reading the other books could get very confusing. Like some of the other titles in the series, this one riffs on popular pop and rock songs, though here that is all the more important given that the music scene is central to the action presented.

While the other books were very funny and well written, this one comes with the volume cranked high and the quality really coming through, like Pratchett’s Discworld books become better the deeper into his work the reader travels if reading them chronologically.

The quantum leap forward here comes from keeping the journalism team very much together (much of the story involves them conducting a graveyard stakeout and secretly watching one another to protect each other). The media office dynamics between them all are highlights of earlier books, though they usually end up splitting up more to follow different strands of investigation before reuniting in the finales. As they work largely collectively here, the sharp dialogue normally reserved for office hours is sustained for most of the narrative and it is really quite glorious.

From previous escapades, journalist Stella has been left with extremely powerful but barely controllable magical energy bursts that can get literally explosive if she is threatened or enraged. She is a walking powder keg, as highlighted when her drinks are foolishly spiked during a nightclub vigil. The team have taken to following her around to check she is in check, though she knows this is going on as most of them are not very good at staying cloak and dagger.

Stella has also been sent by the senior staff to do a journalism course at Manchester University, where she meets a former pop singer she used to idolise before his band split up and he fell on apparent hard times. She also narrowly escapes being landed on by a stoned student who falls hundreds of feet from the sky where he had been defying gravity for some time. He goes understandably splat.

While Stella is there by what seems to be wrong place and wrong time case of sheer chance, her presence at the tragedy makes recurring enemies, The Founders, think she is involved deeper and deliberately. The Founders are a powerful occult wielding Mafia-Illuminati style organization, and they are shocked that the events indicate some independent dabbler in the occult is freelancing on their turf.

Banecroft, the delightfully politically incorrect Stranger Times editor has problems of his own with a ghostly Puritan threatening to drag him to Hell if he doesn’t correct some of his wrongs, but not giving him clues as to which of Banecroft’s many wrongs he means. Contact with modern Fates, a trio of immortal and very mismatched sisters who were once a Supremes like pop band, makes Stella realise that her pop musician friend might be more implicated in the troubling events than suspected before.

With plot connected corpses vanishing from Southern Cemetery (genuinely Manchester’s biggest graveyard), the team start staking out the plots and end up capturing a bizarrely cute and friendly ghoul called Brian. While ghoul’s have a bad reputation, Brian is basically an entity trapped in perpetual grief who mourns over the dead whether he knows them or not. That corpses are being stolen has freaked him out. The media team adopt him, house train him and feed him biscuits. He develops a special bond with the generally unapproachable Banecroft, even insisting on holding hands with him, which Banecroft allows. I really hope Brian returns in future books.

The plot takes some genuinely unexpected twists and there are an astonishing numbers of perfectly well validated cameos by an eclectic range of celebrities (they are not just name-dropped). I won’t reveal the circumstances of their respective appearances as that would be a huge spoiler.

Gnomes and zombies get in the fun too, which gets startlingly violent at times but it is the side-splitting banter and characterization of the journalists that really elevates this volume above its preceding trilogy. At this rate, book five is likely to be incredible.

Arthur Chappell

See also Tim's review of Relight My Fire.


[Up: Fiction Reviews Index | SF Author: Website Links | Home Page: Concatenation]

[One Page Futures Short Stories | Recent Site Additions | Most Recent Seasonal Science Fiction News]

[Updated: 24.4.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]