Top critical review
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on 2 February 2006
Opening with the regular cast of Jim Pooley, John Omally and the rest of the patrons of the Flying Swan, Nostradamus Ate My Hamster initially appears as though it should be marked as one of Rankin’s ‘Brentford’ series, but the conceit here is that while to all intents and purposes this is a Brentford book the plot removes Pooley and Omally to feature only at the very beginning and end of the novel, leaving a new hero – Russell Nice – to save Brentford from supernatural evil.
The novel starts strongly with a typically bonkers plot, with Russell setting out to discover if Rankin’s fictional Pooley and Omally ever existed, and ending up in possession of holographic technology from the future with which he intends to resurrect dead Hollywood film stars to star in a new feature film. Add in the machinations of Hitler who escaped from Nazi Germany in a flying saucer and a supernatural entity attempting to steal time by removing people’s spines and Rankin seems to be onto another winner.
Unfortunately it doesn’t quite build up to the climax it should though, as the second half gets rather bogged down in Back To The Future-style time travel shenanigans. The plotting is pretty tight, and everything eventually makes sense, but the convoluted cause and effect nature of multiple time travellers makes this fairly heavy going, and the humour seems to be squeezed out by the convoluted plot. In fact, while there are a few good laughs this isn’t one of Rankin’s funniest books, and the inclusion of a couple of spooky short stories along the way (including a fantastically macabre tale of a one-man crime spree) highlight this as a rather dark book by Rankin’s standards.
The novel also seems to suffer from a lack of focus brought about by too many villains (in fact everyone apart from Russell appears to be a villain by the novel’s end). Hitler gets a couple of amusing scenes but feels under-utilised as a villain, and the spine-stealing time monster is particularly lacking in development for the novel’s main threat – we learn very little about this creature and Russell never even gets a big confrontation with it at the end.
Nostradamus Ate My Hamster is still a good standalone Rankin novel, but its not one of his better books. Some fun scenes, wacky ideas and god spooky tales, but as a novel I felt this could have been improved with a little more focus on whether Hitler or the time monster was the threat, and a less convoluted plot. Still enjoyable and worth reading, but I felt as though this could easily have been brilliant rather than merely good.