Monday, 6 June 2011

'The Damned Busters' - Matthew Hughes


I have previously seen The Damned Busters on the Angry Robot website but never had a closer look at it. The other day I came across a review of it on The Red Rook Review which made me realise that I had potentially missed a nugget of pure gold entertainment. The Damned Busters tells the story of Chesney Arnstruther who buy accident summons a demon, but refuses to sign away his soul for the promise of gold, buxom ladies and power. I hit the magic 1-click buy button and started reading.

It's Chesney Arnstruther's turn to host the poker night with the guys from work. His flat is quite small and he struggled to find a proper poker table that is small enough to fit into his flat so he decided to build a five-sided one on his own. The poker night is important to him so he wants it done right. It's all looking good when he accidentally hits himself with the hammer and blood splashes onto the table. Having been brought up by a religious and very strict mother he made his own swear words which are coming out in a steady stream. This unfortunate chain of events culminates in the summoning of a demon, a squat and toad-like creature.

When Chesney Arnstruther was younger he was diagnosed with having a condition similar to autism. He simply cannot focus his mind on things that does not interest him. In school you are often required to do a little bit of everything so he often got into trouble. He is only really interested in maths and numbers and when working on something that interests him, everything else disappears. Maybe it is his analytical and unique personality that helps him handle a demon summing so cooly without losing his head, or soul for that matter.

The demon, having been summoned, wants to know what Chesney wants in exchange for his soul. Chesney is not interested at all and tries to explain that it is all a mistake and that giving up his soul would be a foolish thing to do anyway. The demon cannot get time off work without a signed contract so he complains to his union rep and all of a sudden hell is on strike and this has interesting consequences.

Chesney has always had the feeling that he is destined for something and has just been waiting for that day. While waiting he has read a lot of comics and being a super hero seems like fun. I would have done the same. To resolve the strike hell offers him a deal to which he agrees. Chesney wants to don the tight fitting spandex and go out and fight crime, just like his favorite super hero, The Driver, a mild-mannered and bespectacled UPS courier. Chesney chooses to call his crime fighting alter-ego The Actionary, a pun on his job title, actuary, and the word action.

"Captain America was already taken." - Chesney Arnstruther on his crime fighting alias.

All of a sudden he seems to attract trouble in every form, promotions, beautiful women, a mother who rediscovers love, crime, angels, demons and even a super villain.

The Damned Busters is a very funny book and I quite quickly finished it. Matthew Hughes has succeeded in creating a very likeable protagonist with Chesney. He is funny, but often also very insightful with his observations about life, relationships and religion. You cannot help want him to succeed and get the girl. His cigar smoking and rum drinking demon side kick is also a very funny and quirky character who is portrayed as a 50s gangster. I pretty much liked every character in this book even though a few were very stereotypical like his mom, but in spite of that they all deliver and add to a good story. The humour in The Damned Busters is its strongest point although it is not quite as funny as Jonathan L Howard's books about Johannes Cabal. I would also say that the it's a somewhat softer kind of humour. I laughed out loud on a couple of occasions which is a good thing. Although the demon side kick is funny and a great character it does weaken the story somewhat as he basically fulfils every wish of Chesney, took away some of the excitement. All in all a good book that you should pick up if you like super heroes or just want to read something that will make you smile.

The Damned Busters weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Angry Robot.

Verdict: read

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