Neil Gaiman introduced Compe Anansi, the African spider-god and trickster, as a minor character in his last best seller, "American Gods." Although American Gods was readable, Anansi Boys is better. As another reviewer has pointed out, there were places where American Gods just felt like a bit of a re-hash of the Brief Lives story arc from "Sandman." By comparison, Anansi Boys takes the character and background of the African (or by now African-American) god Anansi and riffs on the mythos with highly original results.
Anansi himself is a brilliantly memorable creation - a dapper, fedora-wearing, wisecracking, Cab Calloway lookalike with a perpetual eye for the ladies (even after death) and a soft-shoe shuffle "that was popular for about half an hour in Harlem in the 1920's," and, in consequence, a constant source of toe-curling mortification to his estranged son Fat Charlie. When the story opens, Fat Charlie is living mundanely in South London, with a lukewarm fiancée, a mother-in-law-to-be from Hell, and a job working for a man who resembles the psychotic twin of Reggie Perrin's boss. He's one of life's mysteriously selected fall guys - his father plays humiliating jokes on him as a kid, promotion passes him over; coffee gets spilt on his lap, his embarrassing nickname survives weight loss and a 3000-mile move across the Atlantic, a wrongful arrest causes neighbours to assume that he must be a Yardie. Things, however, are about to get worse ... far, far worse.
Told with the authorial voice of a generous, stand-up raconteur (Gaiman credits Lenny Henry in the acknowledgements) this is entertainment of a high quality. As with "American Gods", there's a certain amount of magic. Appropriately, however, and at best, it often appears as verbal trickery, so that you can watch the storyteller shifting the perceptions of the listener as they talk (in one of the best scenes, Fat Charlie's boss tries to sack his twin brother Spider, and the usual redundancy spiel goes horribly wrong). I'd always assumed Gaiman did the plot of "Good Omens," and Pratchett did the dialogue, but this demonstrates that he can do both ... now, if only the two of them could get back together for "Good Omens II" ..?