Tuesday 19 January 2016

Reviewed: The Last of the Bowmans by J. Paul Henderson

The Last of the Bowmans will be published by No Exit Press on January 21, 2016.

Thanks to Alex at No Exit Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.

I have read some strange (shall we say quirky?) books over the past few years but The Last of the Bowmans is right up there, being one of the most bizarre. Having read the author’s debut novel, Last Bus to Coffeeville, back in 2014, I was expecting a good deal of humour and that’s what was delivered – in a very odd fashion, but still very entertaining! I laughed my way through this book and probably enjoyed it just that little bit more than Last Bus to Coffeeville, connecting better with the characters in The Last of the Bowmans and preferring the shorter, more fast-paced format too.

Although the story begins with the death of a character in eighty-three year old Lyle, the way it happens is so odd and laughable that there’s nothing as much as sadness running through the novel, more the very occasional touching moment. As Lyle had inadvertently drunk a lot of white spirit, his walking was less than stable and on his way to a shop to find a Double Decker chocolate bar at the right price, he ends up being hit by a bus and shortly passes away. What a way to go! His death means that his son Greg will return for his funeral, seven years after he moved to America. Staying in his dad’s house, Greg is surprised that he is not alone – Lyle’s presence is felt, and seen, and Greg soon learns he has a family that needs fixing.

The re-appearance of Lyle was an unusual one but vital to the route the book goes down. Having grown quite fond of Lyle the moments before he died, I was quite pleased to see him still in the story although he was much more eccentric than before. A lot of his newfound traits (such as his dress sense once dead) I would suggest were written for humour sake rather than with any real meaning – something which became a little bit of a trend across the entire book. But despite that, it was the black humour that I loved the most about The Last of the Bowmans and it was the sharp wit that provided the most entertainment throughout.

Greg is set the challenge of sorting his family out, notably his brother Billy and his uncle Frank. Lyle, Greg, Billy and Frank were all engaging characters, each one with a (strange) story to tell and something to hide. Billy has got himself into trouble for apparently stalking a woman with no feet – trust me, it only gets weirder, and Frank is, for some reason, planning on robbing a bank. I actually loved getting to know the Bowman family. They were odd, but endearing, and some of their secrets were quite original, not exactly something you’re going to read in your average book. I was fascinated with their secrets and where they were going to lead the family.

The supporting characters we meet are also pretty weird, but we don’t really get to the bottom of why with any of them. I felt they lacked depth a little bit which was a shame as the main characters had plenty of it. Having said that, they didn’t stop the book from being laugh-out-loud funny all the way through and there was more than enough odd to go around. Compared to the author’s last book which I thought was a slow-burner that got better throughout, The Last of the Bowmans for me seemed to start off stronger than it finished, although the last couple of chapters brought it back to its best. There’s not exactly a big point to this novel, the characters develop a bit but not hugely, but it is what it is – a witty insight into a dysfunctional family. It’s a great read to distract you from a mundane real life – or just make you feel better about your, in comparison, far more normal family.

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