The Damned Busters review

The Damned Busters follows in a noble tradition of humorous fantasies in which someone gets one over on the devil when entering into a pact - such stories follow on from what seems to be a very early form of fantasy story with a number of legends (usually explaining odd landmarks) using this plot line.

In Matthew Hughes' novel, comic-book obsessed Chesney Artstruther, an actuary on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. accidentally summons a demon. His refusal to accept a pact results in a strike in Hell, which leads to Satan agreeing to allow Chesney demon-powered super abilities in exchange for ending the strike.

Altogether this works reasonably well - Hughes has some clever twists on the pact with the devil riff, and keeps us engaged, even though the female characters are very old-fashioned: the overbearing mother, the girl he loves who is beautiful but shallow and the girl he will end up with who is bright and sassy. The writing style is good but sits slightly oddly with the setting - I assumed Hughes was English (he's actually Canadian) because the way it is written feels like an outsider's view of the US.

The ending is somewhat unsatisfying too, fixing a local problem but clearly leading on to further books (there's a trilogy). And compared with the greats of this genre there really isn't enough made of the limitations that come with such pacts. Chesney's assistant demon seems pretty much lacking in demonic qualities and is a nice guy really, while the open-endedness of the pact itself allows for far too much deus ex machina in the plotting. However, the underlying concepts of the rebellion in Hell and of the idea that existence is a story still being written are genuinely interesting, so it may be worth continuing to volumes 2 and 3.

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