The Stranger Times by C K McDonnell, Review: Gutsy fun read

The Stranger Times by C K McDonnell is a hilariously dark comedy novel and brilliant start to a fun urban fantasy mystery series for adults. Read my full review.

The Stranger Times Synopsis

The Stranger Times Book Review - C K McDonnell

Book 1 of The Stranger Times

There are dark forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular), so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them . . . 

A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable.

At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed husk of a man who thinks little of the publication he edits. His staff are a ragtag group of misfits. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got problems of her own.

When tragedy strikes in her first week on the job The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious investigating. What they discover leads to a shocking realisation: some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker forces than they could ever have imagined.

The Stranger Times is the first novel from C.K. McDonnell, the pen name of Caimh McDonnell. It combines his distinctive dark wit with his love of the weird and wonderful to deliver a joyous celebration of how truth really can be stranger than fiction.

(Penguin, January 2021)

Genre: Humour, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi Fantasy

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Book Review

If, like me, you have been in dire need of some escapism recently, I highly recommend investing in a copy of C K McDonnell’s The Stranger Times.

It really is weirdly wonderful. It is a fun read but frenetically paced. McDonnell’s vividly-drawn eclectic (and ever surprisingly layered) character ensemble trade clever barbed dialogue like a troupe of knife throwers on Red Bull.

Hannah Willis is just one of the fabulously feisty females in this cast and editor Banecroft, the lava-like core of this motley newspaper crew’s daily trauma, brought back fond reading memories of Mick Herron’s iconic curmudgeonly character Jackson Lamb.

“Mrs Harnforth spoke as if addressing the room rather than any one individual. ‘Who was it that said sarcasm is the lowest form of wit?’

‘I don’t know,’ replied Banecroft, ‘but I guarantee they’d not seen the internet before they said it.” 

Yes, there is rudeness and uproariously bad behaviour, but beneath the bluster and hilariously world-weary dark comedic farce there’s also a satisfying dose of social commentary, journalistic gumption, renegade bravery and team loyalty at its heart. And, McDonnell keeps the levity and feeling of warped perspectives high by scattering bite-sized articles from The Stranger Times‘ newspaper between this novel’s chapters. The irony and deadpan humour in their reportage is top-shelf.

Having enjoyed this novel immensely and now keen to dive into Book 2, This Charming Man, it comes as little surprise the series was optioned for TV even prior to its publication. I only hope they do McDonnell’s wonderfully nuanced mix of smart black comedy and adult urban fantasy justice.

Note, since invaluable character and world-building setup is contained in Book 1, The Stranger Times series is one you really must read from this beginning.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5 ; Overall 4.75

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More The Stranger Times reviews

‘A filmic romp with great characters, a jet-propelled plot, and a winning premise’ – Guardian

‘A gag-filled romp … Ripping entertainment from start to finish.’ – The Times 

‘Wonderfully dark, extremely funny, and evocative of Terry Pratchett – which I think is the highest compliment I can give.’ – Adam Kay, author of This is Going to Hurt

‘Darkly comedic . . . alternating between sinister and silly, McDonnell’s writing is intelligently witty.’ – The Herald

About the Author, C K McDonnell

Born in Limerick and raised in Dublin, C K (Caimh) McDonnell is a former stand-up comedian and TV writer. He performed all around the world, had several well-received Edinburgh shows and supported acts such as Sarah Millican on tour before hanging up his clowning shoes to concentrate on writing. He has also written for numerous TV shows and been nominated for a Kid’s TV BAFTA.

His debut novel, A Man With One of Those Faces – a comic crime novel – was published in 2016 and spawned The Dublin Trilogy books and the spin-off McGarry Stateside series. They have been Amazon bestsellers on both sides of the Atlantic. C. K. McDonnell lives in Manchester. To find out more, visit or his Facebook page.