CK McDonnell’s comic urban fantasy with a side of horror The Stranger Times introduced readers to an occult side of Manchester (and the world) through the eyes of a fringe newspaper. It was clear by the end of that book that McDonnell had a much larger story in mind. That book introduced the weird and whacky staff of The Stranger Times, a newspaper of the bizarre working out of an old church, and quickly established that at least some of the things that they were reporting on were possibly true. The plot touched on an ancient war between Founders and Folk, introduced a character with significant unexplained powers and a bunch of others with weird connections.
This Charming Man opens a few weeks after the end of The Stranger Times. The crew at The Stranger Times are asked to investigate the death of a vampire. And while vampire attacks increase, everyone in the magical world seems to agree that despite the evidence and the stories, vampires do not actually exist. Meanwhile, the team are also investigating who might be trying to kidnap Stella, the young, mysteriously powerful woman who they have now sworn to keep safe.
Once again, McDonnell seeks to balance a page turning combination of mystery, personal drama, comedy, urban fantasy and body horror. The plot itself runs to the aforementioned vampires (or not?), river goddesses, talking dogs (formerly human), eldritch loan sharks and a kind of faerie IRA. And all this with a cast of characters some of whom manage to be loveable (or at least interesting) even when they are being totally obnoxious. The central mystery gets solved a little too simply and quickly but in doing so does serve to broaden the world of the series. And in the background, a longer narrative arc slowly progresses promising something much bigger in the future. It is a potent mix, anchored by McDonnell’s dry wit and wry observations, and one that is likely to bring fans of this style of genre mash back for more.