Review: The Damned Busters, by Matthew Hughes
Posted May 18, 2011on:
The Damned Busters, by Matthew Hughes
Release dates- US: May 31st 2011, UK May 5th 2011
Where I got it: Received Review copy from the friendly folks at Angry Robot Books
why I read it: Interesting premise + totally cool cover art = sign me up.
Meet Chesney Arnstruther, diagnosed in childhood as a high functioning autistic, his social skills are limited to the occasional game of low stakes poker, reading comic books, ogling over women who jog in the park, and speaking on the phone to his televangelist obsessed Mother, Letitia. Employed at an insurance company, Chesney gets to spend his days doing what he loves: working with numbers. Averages, graphs, predictions, statistics, those are the things that sing in Chesney’s heart. Logical and practical, he respects his mother’s religious leanings, but Chesney’s personal faith lies in numbers, percentages, and algorithms.
You can get the gist of how things get started by following the genius cover art: Man stubs hand with hammer in presence of an inadvertent pentagram. Demon is summoned, offers man his hearts desire in exchange for his soul. Man says “No thanks!”, and before long, all Hell breaks loose. Well, not so much “break loose”, as goes on strike. Yes, the Demons of hell are organized. And Chesney suddenly finds himself smack dab in the middle of their union negotiations. He never sold his soul or signed a deal with the Devil, so what are they do with him? He’s a special case, so he gets a special deal, one named Xaphon. With the looks, sound, and personality of a prohibition era gangster, the demon Xaphon is Chesney’s to command for two hours out of every 24.
If you had a no-souls-attached deal with the devil for your heart’s desire, what would it be? Wealth? Fame? Power? Chesney wants to do what his comic book hero The Driver does: stop crime. With Xaphon’s help, a costumed Chesney attempts to live his comic book dream, but nothing goes quite right. He stops a kidnapping, and nearly gets arrested. He saves a young woman from muggers, and she pepper sprays him in the face. Even worse, his employers at the insurance company sure would love to meet this new local superhero who is making the city safer. Good guys with ulterior motives, and demons being forced to do good by mortals, what is the world coming to???
Speaking of what the world is coming it, there’s been these rumors. Rumors of a book, a book that’s been being written since the beginning of time. Some people believe it’s just a draft. Some people believe the author is about to start fresh, any day now, because the author has writers block and doesn’t know what comes next. There is this wonderfully meta passage near the beginning of The Damned Busters by a lawyer turned writer turned televangelist saying how the only cure of his case of writers block came when he allowed his characters to write the story themselves and come to their own ending. Maybe you have to be there, but it was magnificently meta.
There is plenty of religion in The Damned Busters, but it is not a religious story. Sure, somewhere in there it’s about good vs evil, but it is more about stepping back from the system and taking a good long look at what’s really going on. Like anything you can label “religious”, it’s all in the interpretation.
A little bit of Terry Pratchett, a little bit of Mystery Men, a whole lotta hilarious punny word-play alongside some meta bookishness and probably some misdirection, The Damned Busters is a damn good book. As funny and light-hearted as it is thought provoking and belief challenging, I’ve never read anything quite like it.
With the sequel in the works, I’m thinking someone is in for one helluva day of reckoning.