What do those three things have in common, you might ask? Is it a weird modern take on Narnia?
Nope. In fact, they don’t really have much of anything in common; but their worlds collided in fateful and cataclysmic ways to created one of the most entertaining stories I’ve read in a long time. It’s called the To Hell and Back trilogy, written by Matthew Hughes, and unfortunately only the first two books are out at the moment. But the third is on the way and, according to the author’s afterward in the first book, there’s an option in his contract for a fourth.
Picture this: you’re an actuary (a pretty dull job, to say the least), and you’re building a unique five-sided poker table so that you and your coworkers can play. Suddenly, the hammer comes down on your finger hard enough to draw blood, which lands on the table, and you let off a string of curses… except, you don’t curse, so you utter some gibberish instead. In a puff of sulfurous smoke, a demon is sitting on your poker table waiting to bargain for your soul.
Thus begin the misadventures of Chesney Arnstruther in The Damned Busters, a hilarious and masterful collision of Judeo-Christian mythology and comic book culture. The gist is that Chesney causes Hell to go on strike, which means no temptation, no sin, etc. Seems like a good thing? Not really. That stuff is the driving force of the entire world, and without it, no one has the motivation to do anything. People stop going to work, stop socializing, etc. So Chesney, being the clever man he is, strikes a deal which allows him to keep his soul — and become a costumed crimefighter to boot. Suffice to say it’s all in here. There’s action, conspiracies, pretty ladies (the aforementioned manicurist plays a particularly humorous and important role), and a small side of philosophy. I won’t give it all away, but it’s a hell of a ride. Costume Not Included is the sequel, picking up right where the first one leaves off, and it’s just as good. Hughes is a master of his craft, creating deep, engrossing stories, lovable characters, and fantastic plot twists.
So basically, if you’re a fan of books, humor, comics, or fresh and humorous usage of religious mythologies, you should check this out. Actually, if you’re a living, breathing person you should just go to your favorite bookstore, be it Barnes & Noble or Amazon Kindle, and get these books. That’s how good they are. Hughes has a talent with words, and Angry Robots definitely made the right choice in signing him. Let’s hope they take that option for a fourth book… and maybe even more beyond that!