Love Will Tear Us Apart by C. K. McDonnell (book review).

Charles Fort (1874-1932) was an avid collector of the weird, searching newspapers for stories of strange events such as rains of frogs. He published a number of books collecting these articles. In 1973, Bob Rickard started a magazine that evolved into the ‘Fortean Times’, continuing the work of Charles Fort. 1997 saw the screening of ‘Fortean TV’ on Channel 4. Fronted by the leather clad, motorbike riding Reverent Lionel Fanthorpe’, it was the visual version of the ‘Fortean Times’.

The Stranger Times’ is the fictional version of the ‘Fortean Times’ and is the creation of C. K. McDonnell and the focus of the novel ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart. This is the third in the series featuring the paper and the characters who produce it. While some knowledge of earlier volumes would clarify some of the events, this is largely a stand-alone volume.

Vincent Banecroft is the editor of the Manchester-based newspaper. He is distracted as, although his wife is dead, he is convinced that she is still alive somewhere. The paper has other problems to contend with as well as being effectively rudderless. The assistant editor, Hannah Willis, has resigned suddenly and without explanation.

The owner, Mrs Harnforth, has sent Betty Cavendish in to replace her. This has sent Grace into a tizzy as Betty says she wants to audit the accounts. Grace’s filing system is eccentric. All the receipts, etc. have been stashed and the boxes stored wherever there is space. Now she is frantically trying to find where she has put them all. Stella is an apprentice reporter and the other two members of staff are Ox and Reggie. The offices are in an old church and most of the staff seem to camp there. They also have a visiting ghost, Simon Brush, who had been a member of staff.

While the staff at ‘The Stranger Times’ are trying to cope with a series of unfortunate event, including the kidnapping of Hex Dex, who used to write a column for them and Loon Day, the one day a month when members of the public who have ‘unexplained phenomena’ to tell them about all descend on the offices with their stories they feel under attack from other directions. Threaded through this narrative, which includes Banecroft trying to find his wife, are the reasons why Hannah resigned.

Mrs Harnforth has set her to investigate an exclusive lifestyle clinic but needed her to appear to have severed all connections with the paper. People who attend come out with all their bad habits eliminated, a phenomenon Hannah has noticed first hand and her philandering ex-husband appears unlike the man she knows. He is bland, his eyes and hands failing to engage with any of the female staff or patrons in the restaurant where they meet.

Running behind all the mystery are the secretive Founders, whose aim, among others, is to keep all hint of magic and the supernatural from general knowledge. The conspiracy theories and reports of strange happenings as reported in ‘The Stranger Times’ are monitored and anything that touches on the truth is acted upon, which is why they think Hex Dex was kidnapped. The action takes the characters to various sites around the city including a graveyard and the sewers.

The characters are well-defined with their own quirks and issues. It is a volume packed with interest and the interactions between the characters leads to humour without the author pushing it at the reader with the hidden instruction that ‘this is funny’. It comes naturally within the text. This is a series that I would happily read more of.

Pauline Morgan

January 2023

(pub: Bantam Press/Penguin, London, 2023. 443 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-7873-339-1) 

check out website: www.penguin.co.uk/?post_type=company-pages&p=14375

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