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The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse

by Robert Rankin

(Gollancz, £9.99, 342 pages, hardback, published 5 September 2002.)

Even before you read the first page, nay, the first sentence, you can tell this is no ordinary hardback. The title alone, though leading you gently by the hand, doesn't really prepare you for this hugely enjoyable detective thriller written in the inimitable Rankin style, and it has to said, it will not convert you, unless of course you are way inclined to surreal humour.

In terms of genre and bookshop stock, Rankin is pitched in with Terry Pratchett, but Rankin had his first novel -- The Antipope -- published in 1981, a couple of years before Pratchett. Rankin's humour and style is harsher, not so commercially viable as Pratchett's, which is why the Discworld King overshot him, sales-wise. Rankin is for me, though, superior, with his surreal approach to storylines, wonderful wordplay and offbeat humour. As John Clute remarked, "he does for England, what Spike Milligan does for Ireland" and I cannot say anything better than that. Apart from change the second "does" to "did", perhaps.

This is his twenty-fourth novel, and features Jack (and Jill does appear) on his way to seek his fortune. He ends up in Toy City, a place of monetary opulence and carnal desires, and populated by all manner of characters from various nursery rhymes, all living and breathing. This is the life of the idle rich, staving off the boredom with the royalties generated from the sales of the nursery rhymes from where they appeared, all those years ago.

But, there is serial killer loose in Toy City, and it's up to Jack (along with Eddie Bear) to find out who he is...

And there you have the start to a wonderful ride, which eschews the conventions of a detective thriller, and moulds them into something that is unmistakably Rankin. You have the detective and his sidekick; the MacGuffin; the murders; the sex; the double-crosses. Everything that any decent detective thriller had, you'll probably find it here, plus Rankin's fondness for in-jokes.

Like I stated, this will not convert you if you've never read Robert Rankin before, for his style and sense of humour will not be too everyone's taste, but as a rule of thumb if you love the aforementioned Goon, then chances are you'll like Robert Rankin. Of course, if you hate media in-jokes, then that too could put you in the anti-Rankin camp, for many of his jokes do rely on obscure, and not so obscure, references.

Another word I can use to describe Rankin, and his writing, is eccentric. He writes in old school exercise books, and mainly down the pub. In such an atmosphere, you can see why the stories are so off-centre: this isn't to say that it feels like you're reading the musings of an inebriated writer, far from it, since each and every twist, despite seemingly coming from nowhere, somehow shows that he is in full control of the story, and it all makes sense, in a strange way.

In fact, this review is starting to turn into the musings of an inebriated reviewer -- which it isn't, sadly -- so I shall end it, by just stating that the fans will love this book, without doubt, whereas newcomers should either steal or, preferably, borrow from their local library, and make up their own mind.

Review by Christopher Teague.

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