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DIGGING UP DONALD by STEVEN PIRIE
IMMANION PRESS, hb, 333pp, £17.99
Reviewed by Peter Tennant

All is not well in the town of Mudcaster. Vicar Herbert Likewise has been replaced by a demonic entity and with the help of henchman Mr Dodds sets about organising Armageddon, or something very like it. Central to the resistance are the Richards family, with the ancient Grandmother who sits on the brow of a hill standing guard over a sacred site of power, which the town council would like to transform with a bit of tree planting, while the Mother formulates plans to avert disaster and the Father acts as her trusty helpmate. The most important people in all this though are the Richards children.

Maureen is married but her hopes of pregnancy have been scotched by demons, a situation she can't reverse despite a flair for erotic improvisation that makes the Kama Sutra look like something for novices, while schoolboy Robert is the Chosen One, destined to play a pivotal role in the conflict that is to come and thus very much on the radar of Reverend Likewise and his cohorts, especially as his hormones are on the march and he's taken a fancy to the Reverend's daughter Joan.

Desperate times require desperate measures, and so the Mother calls for the digging up of Donald, the family's time capsule, which contains a number of articles of occult power, including the Book of Family Business, while the Grandmother orders the Richards clan to assemble in its entirety, both living and dead.

On another plane, where he has an actual existence, Donald overlooks the proceedings, as the stage is set for the latest battle between the forces of good and evil.

The plot is something of a labyrinthine sprawl and there's much more to it than conveyed by my exercise in précis. Though, with the benefit of hindsight, the pieces fit together quite well there's also a feeling of contrivance about much of what happens, with the reasons for some of the events not at all clear, such as why the relatives have to be dug up in the first place as they play only a small part in the final showdown.

Plot is very much a secondary concern here, gonzo in extremis and serving no intrinsic purpose except to provide a framework within which Pirie can exercise his considerable comic talent. This is seen most obviously in the wealth of wonderful characters that abound within the pages of the book, such as the matter of fact Father with his phlegmatic approach to daily chores and the fear inspiring Mother with her combination of battle-axe spirit and heart of gold, or the Grandmother, breathtakingly indomitable and defiant in her splendid isolation.

There are similar delights to be found in the interplay between Reverend Likewise and the evil Mr Dodds, the romantic escapades of Maureen and her lucky sod of a husband, and even in the antics of such secondary characters as the policemen and teachers, diligently clinging on to their set ways of doing things in the teeth of disaster.

Pirie knows how to give us people who are funny but never silly, characters with whom we can identify, and the key to his success is in the dialogue, which occasionally lapses into a sameness but more often is rich with warmth and humour. Elsewhere his invention never seems to flag as Robert, who is very much the Candide or Michael Valentine Smith of the story, and the other members of the Richards family are dragged into all sorts of adventures, taken to Death's Gate and Hell itself, travelling back in time and journeying all round the world in search of the remains of deceased family members, the latter the pretext for some of the book's funniest scenes, as we meet such over the top characters as Uncle Norman, who does a passable impression of Prometheus chained to a rock only with starlings, the prudish Aunt Maude who was cremated and ended up sharing an urn with a man, and Cousin Hilderbrand, the carnivorous brain, a brood that is both typically English and eccentric enough to make the Addams gang seem the epitome of middle class tedium by comparison.

All told this is a delightful and thoroughly entertaining read.

Pirie's book is a shot in the arm of a jaded genre and if there's any justice he will be welcomed with open chequebooks by the devotees of comic fantasy.


Reproduced with permission




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