The Stranger Times is set in Manchester at the (fictional) newspaper of the same name. When Hannah Willis interviews for a job there, she never expects to be dragged into a world of the paranormal and the paranoid. She begins to realise there is a hidden side to Manchester, which may explain the strange deaths the police have put down to suicide, despite the evidence pointing to other causes.

The author manages to create a mashup of terrifying monsters, quirky characters, plenty of light-hearted moments and witty one-liners. A lot of the wit is provided by the boss of The Stranger Times, Mr Banecroft. One great example of this is when he is face-to-face with the creature, a suspect in the deaths. Banecroft steps forward and says he’s publishing an article implicating the creature, then asks it for a quote.

I was drawn to this because of the Manchester setting, but the good thing about it is the way I couldn’t tell how much of the setting was based on fact and how much the author made up. It all blended together seamlessly, just like the different genres used in the book: crime, paranormal, dark comedy.

In all the madness, there a few scary scenes and attempted sacrifices, but the humour prevents it from becoming too dark. The book flowed well, with each character having their own traits and oddities, making them easy to distinguish from each other. A large part of the book’s success is the result of the author’s writing ability. If written by someone else, this could have been a disaster, but McDonnell makes it work.

The author has taken the clever step of creating his website under the name of the newspaper from the book and even featuring a few pieces of strange news alongside promoting this book.

I look forward to the second book in the series next year, and I hope it is just as eccentric.

The Stranger Times (Book 1) is out of 14 January.

Review by Amanda Steel, co-host of Reading in Bed on Anchor, and the author of Ghost of Me, which was a top 10 finalist in the 2020 Author Elite Awards.

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