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Costume Not Included [Paperback]

Matthew Hughes
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 1 2012 Angry Robot
Chesney's efforts to save the day and get the girl make slow progress. Even as he is trying to learn the ropes, Boss Greeley has made a deal with the devil. A deal that is making Greeley stronger by the minute.

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Review

Hughes continues to carve out a unique place for himself in the fantasy-mystery realm. A droll narrative voice, dry humor and an alternative universe that's accessible without exposition make this a winner.� - Publishers Weekly... �This is a funny and surprisingly endearing book� - The Guardian

About the Author

Matt Hughes was born sixty years ago in Liverpool, England, but his family moved to Canada when he was five. He' has made my living as a writer all of his adult life, first as a journalist, then as a staff speechwriter to the Canadian Ministers of Justice and Environment, and - from 1979 until a few years back - as a freelance corporate and political speechwriter in British Columbia. He is a former director of the Federation of British Columbia Writers and he used to belong to Mensa Canada, but these days he's conserving his energies to write fiction. The author lives in Ireland.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Deliciously irreverent June 7 2012
By Lorina Stephens TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Matthew Hughes has to be one of Canada's most under-celebrated, under-appreciated writers. Easily capable of dancing between genres, in this sequel to The Damned Busters, Hughes unfolds a wry, witty tale, absolutely heretical, deliciously irreverent, that continues the concept of 'is God making this up as He goes along?'

As always there are clearly-drawn characters that lift off the page, a pace that is steady and at times palpitating, and just when you think matters might become too serious he ambushes you with an insight that leaves you laughing out loud.

If you're a fan of Terry Pratchett, allow me to introduce you to Matthew Hughes. You're in for a rocketing good read.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A funny and clever book April 4 2012
By W.M.M. van der Salm-Pallada - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Costume Not Included is the second volume in Hughes' To Hell and Back series after The Damned Busters. Not having read the prior book, I decided to take a chance and read it after being captured by the cover - yes, I'm shallow like that, but seriously... how cool is that cover? - and intrigued by the synopsis given on the site. To be honest, the synopsis, included above, doesn't really do the book justice as it's so much more than it suggests. In actuality, Chesney, his demon assistant, Xaphan, and his girlfriend, Melda, need to save the world from ending in a glorious puff of nothing. Costume Not Included was a fun read, but it did take me quite a while to get into the book, as it's very clearly book two in a series, and not having read the first one, there were some things I didn't understand. Hughes doesn't really recap anything from the previous book, so new readers are thrown into the deep end and have to gather information on what went before from the text as they go. At first, this was confusing, but once I settled into the book and the action got going, what went before was less important as what was happening right now.

The main character of the book, Chesney - as an aside, am I the one and only person who keeps having flashbacks to one-hit-wonder Chesney Hawkes at that name? Or am I dating myself now? - is quite interesting. Apart from being a demon-assisted super hero called the Actionary, a nice pun on his day job of actuary, he is also a high-functioning autist. Hughes never comes out and states this, but the way Chesney's thought processes are described - the pools of light - his trouble with social interactions and his love of numbers all led me to quickly conclude that Chesney might have Asperger's or some such. Being pretty familiar with autism-spectrum disorders due to having people in my life who have them, I thought Chesney's symptoms pretty convincing and I think Hughes really hit the nail on the head in showing us how life can look from an autistic perspective. I liked Chesney's self-awareness and how funny he is at times when talking about his being different. But don't let my focus on Chesney's autism mislead you, this book isn't a quirky, fantastical look at said disorder; no, the autism is part of who Chesney is, but he is so much more. He's a young man trying to find his way in the world, figuring out his first relationship, trying pry loose his mother's death grip on his figurative umbilical cord and in addition to these 'normal' concerns, he's also trying to figure out how this super hero lark works. I truly enjoyed Chesney's point of view and his story, which shows both emotional growth and social development.

Chesney's supporting group of characters is a strong one and highly entertaining. The pack is led by his demonic sidekick, Xaphan, who has stuck to his 1920's persona and language and who is a classic mob guy. He is part comic relief and part magic wand, helping Chesney find crime to fight and moving him around without people seeing him. Next up we have Melda, Chesney's girlfriend. She was a hard character to get a bead on at first for me, as I kept expecting her to be with Chesney just because he's a super hero and he can provide fame and wealth for her. Luckily, it turns out that she really does love him and I came to really like her. Rounding out the crime-fighting team is Lt. Denby, a police officer who gets drafted by Chesney to help him catch The Twenty, the big fish of the town who run it through corruption and intimidation. In addition, there is also Chesney's overbearing, zealot mother, Letitia, and her 'husband' Reverend Hardacre. These latter two are hilarious; they make fun of the stereotypical TV-preacher types, common in the US and their adherents, without turning them into cardboard caricatures. I loved the way that Letitia learns to accept that her baby is grown up and won't be automatically obeying her any more and more importantly, that she is no longer the pre-eminent woman in his life, that this position now belongs to Melda. It made her sympathetic to the reader in a way Chesney himself can't see her and I thought this very well done by Hughes. Hardacre is everything you expect a TV preacher to be, slimy, proud and out for his own glory, though he also really seems to believe he is chosen by God to help him further creation.

The central conceit to the 'Saving the World from Ending'-plot is the fact that God is writing a book and we are nothing but characters in it, through which he can learn the truth about Good and Evil. Problem is, whenever God messes up and dislikes what he's written, he discards the current draft and starts a new one from the point where he was still happy with his Creation, which means that the world as we know it ends and changes to suit the new draft. I thought this was a clever idea and the way Hughes lets this play out is very cool. I really liked the resolution of this storyline and how much more convoluted it turned out to be than at first implied. Chesney has to go back to Hell and deal with the Devil again and he even retrieves a prior draft-version of Jesus to help him solve the problem. This version of Jesus was hilarious as he's nothing like our modern day depiction of him; everything we know about Jesus? All changed after the fact due to God starting a new draft. And he's none too happy about that, or about where he ended up--a sort of Groundhog Day version of Nazareth. In the end the resolution to this plot line ties everything neatly together, while still leaving some side plots open, so there is still enough to do in the next book.

Costume Not Included is a funny, clever book and I'm glad I took a chance on it. However, if you can do read The Damned Busters first, as I expect it'll make for a smoother read once you start Costume Not Included; this is definitely not a book that stands easily on its own, it's very much part of a series. I know I'll be looking to get my hands on a copy of The Damned Busters, not just to see what I missed, but also to spend more time with Chesney and his friends, because they are great company. Costume Not Included is out now from Angry Robot Books in the US and worldwide and will be released in the UK tomorrow. Book three in the series, Hell to Pay, will be released in March 2013, I know I'll be back to see Chesney trying to roll up The Twenty!

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Actionary battles evil, crime, and narrative control! Sept. 15 2012
By Andrew C Wheeler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
It's not easy being a superhero in the best of circumstances, so pity the poor man whose powers derive from a demon -- and whose mother is dating one of the nation's leading evangelical preachers. And when that young unfortunate's name is Chesney Arnstruther, well...that's someone whom you would not want to switch places with.

Chesney is the superhero of COSTUME NOT INCLUDED, second novel in a trilogy called "To Hell and Back" -- though it means that more puckishly than most fantasy books would -- and I'll direct you to the first novel, The Damned Busters, for the precise details of how and why Chesney made that deal with the devil, how he did it without forfeiting his immortal soul, and why an actuary wanted to be a musclebound superhero in the first place.

There are two kinds of trilogy-middles: the ones that lose the energy of the first volume and mark time until the finale, and the ones that are happy to have gotten the scene-setting out of the way and leap into creating ever more complications to keep things interesting. COSTUME, luckily, is of the second type: the first book took a little while to get going, but this one hits its wry tone right up front and charges forward at exactly the right pace.

Really, how could you put down a novel that begins like this:

"I thought you weren't speaking to me," Chesney Arnstruther said into the phone.

"I'm not speaking to you," said his mother. "I'm telling you something for your own good, is what I'm doing."

So, anyway: Chesney is a superhero, and he's been doing well at it. Too well, actually: he's wiped out pretty much all of the Golden Age-style street crime (guys in suits and fedoras robbing banks, muggings, and so forth) in his city, and his deal only extends so far. He can't directly stop the sources of crime -- which, in best superhero fashion, lies with a shadowy cabal that secretly runs that city -- and his put-everything-into-the-right-boxes mind is not happy leaving a job undone. (His new girlfriend, Melda, is also pushing him in slightly different directions; she's like to see him have a higher media profile and perhaps make some money from being the Actionary.)

Adding to the complications is that his mother's new boyfriend -- that noted thriller writer turned TV evangelist, Reverend Hardacre -- has his own new, and very odd, theory about the secret cosmology of the world, and it's becoming more and more clear that Hardacre is right. And the Devil is not entirely happy with the deal with Chesney -- that lack of a soul coming his way vexes him, and the Devil's whole raison d'etre is to trick and twist and sneak -- and the Devil has deals with other folks who may help him cause trouble for Chesney.

So complications -- very idiosyncratic, unique complications, of the kind only Hughes could create -- proliferate, until Cheney finds himself chased closely by a smart police detective, meeting a Jesus Christ, (not the Jesus -- not the current one, at least -- but a prior, historical version) and having himself proclaimed as a new prophet by Hardacre. But Chesney still has Melda, and his demon Xaphan, on his side, plus his own inextinguishable drive for truth and justice. And there's still one book to come in this trilogy.

Not to sound like a broken record, but Matt Hughes is a great, wonderfully entertaining writer -- his dialogue pops, his people are quirky and real, and his situations could be written by no one else in the world. If you don't like his work, there's got to be something wrong with you.
5.0 out of 5 stars You won't regret reading this June 27 2014
By Kraig Solomon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love this series. It's quite modern and innovative, I am an avid reader and yet this still caught me by surprise on a couple of turns. I really enjoy the books over all, and I'll blaze through the next one i'm sure.
4.0 out of 5 stars Even better than the first book. Dec 31 2013
By David L. Brzeski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is a combined review of the first two books in this series, which was originally written for the British Fantasy Society website.

Chesney Anstruther is an actuary. He is also a functionally autistic nerd. He has all the classic nerd traits. No social skills; bullied at school; geeky job that fascinates him, while interesting no one else; failure with women; loves superhero comics.

When he accidentally causes Hell to go on strike, something has to be done! Satan offers him a one-off deal, which results in the weirdest superhero duo ever.

It reminded me somewhat of the work of the late Robert Asprin; to the extent that I was imagining the characters as if they were drawn by Phil Foglio, the illustrator of many of Asprin’s books and comic adaptations. In the dealings with Satan and Hell I also saw some similarities with Andy Hamilton’s brilliant ‘Old Harry’s Game’ radio series, which is high praise in my book.

That's not to say it as riotously laugh out loud funny as either of the aforementioned works. They were out-and-out comedy, whereas this is comedy-drama. The plot, which combines elements of superhero comics, police procedurals, political thrillers and religious satire is every bit as important as the humour.

'To Hell and Back' book one: 'The Damned Busters' is great fun.
'To Hell and Back' book two: 'Costume Not Included' is even better.

I can see a lot of fundamentalist (read humourless) Christians hating these books. I could see them being pulled from certain school libraries in the USA (assuming they ever got in there in the first place). The overall plot of both books explains in a very amusing fashion, all the inconsistencies in the Bible. Creation is a work in progress and God is constantly revising it, but what happens to all the material that was excised from previous drafts?

Poor Chesney Anstruther has enough trouble coping with the world around him as it is. Now he has to deal with demons, criminals, police officers (corrupt and otherwise), politicians, ambitious televangelists, a new girlfriend, Satan and his mother!

I recommend these books highly and will certainly be reading book three in the series, which has recently landed on my virtual review pile, fairly soon.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great follow up to the first in the series, takes his humor and sarcasm to the next level Dec 4 2013
By S. R. Rowell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Great book, with a lot of humor. If you liked the first book in the series, you will love the second. You get more of the fun with our favorite crime fighter. Just when it looks like he is in over his head, he finds some way to get out of trouble and come to a solution.

However, if the fact that the first book poked fun at religion bothered you, be aware that the second book steps it up a notch. People who thought the Harry Potter books were sacrilegious will have a heart attack reading this book. As long as you can read this book with a sense of humor, you will enjoy the writers wit and sense of sarcasm. I look forward to reading the third book in the series.
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