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A potted history of Brentford
on 9 April 2005
Robert Rankins' 19th novel follows the fortunes of Doveston - snuff kingpin and all round bad egg, and the misfortunes that befall his biographer. Once again Rankin has crafted a tale where his sheer unbridled lunacy is harnessed to a rip-roaring fantasy plot, and enough jokes and tall tales (or load of old toot) to provide plenty of belly laughs along the way.
The device of the biographer relating the life story of Doveston enables Rankin to add a great deal of variety to the book, so we start with a 1950's schooldays satire, head on to a 1960's hippy festival called Brentstock (yes - Rankin has used the rock festival idea before, but it's still hilarious here, with the hero attempting to power the entire concert through his kitchen mains plug after forgetting to hire any power generators), miss out the 1970's altogether (well, the biographer hero did spend the decade in jail), before we get 1980's yuppie corporate culture and the 1990's gives way to the faked (yet still ultimately deadly) Millennium Bug. Of course, this being a Rankin novel the climax involves a deadly man-eating menace that is at least part sprout.
As well as providing Rankin with a wealth of material, it also provides him with an opportunity to revisit dozens of old characters - with Norman Hartnell getting a good solid chunk of the action, and cameos from the likes of Pooley & Omally, Professor Merlin (from The Greatest Show Off Earth), Lazlo Woodbine, Danbury Collins, Elvis and others even more obscure (remember the mythical girl who always rode on others shoulders at rock concerts from Sprout Mask Replica?), and even having fun with the history of Brentford itself, with the hilarious inclusion of many (now mysteriously vanished) ethnic quarters.
As such, while the main storyline and characters are new, and this book can be enjoyed as a standalone novel, this is one occasion when you really would get more out of this novels many throwaway references and cameos if you had actually read a good dozen or more of Rankin's previous books first.