Sunday, 17 January 2016

Jonathan L Howard: The Brothers Cabal

There are actors who you would watch reading a phone book just for the pleasure of their voices - we lost one of those, just this week gone out. And there are authors who I would read whatever the topic. Jonathan Howard is one of them. It’s been four years since I read in one quick burst the whole Johannes Cabal series - as it then was - and I’ve been waiting ever since for The Brothers Cabal to come out in affordable paperback. When it became plain it was never going to do that, I just said the hell with and paid slightly over the odds for a slightly oversized US printing. It wasn’t just worth the wait; I was annoyed with myself for waiting so long.

For starters, The Brothers Cabal is perhaps the best balanced of all the Cabal books, as grounded as Johannes Cabal the Detective, while getting in the character heavy lifting of the other two books. It probably doesn’t hurt that Johannes himself takes a back seat for much of the action, while his more likeable and engaging brother Horst does most of the work. Horst is so ridiculously charming that he ought to be annoying, but somehow he circles around and becomes charming again. Not a bad trick for a vampire. It’s not that vampire literature isn’t full of supposed charmers; it’s that Horst is a convincing good guy just trying to have fun without upsetting anyone.

Johannes, of course, has long ago decided that upsetting people early just saves time and avoids misunderstanding, which makes it a smart move to make him practically a deus ex machina, resting quietly in bed for most of the action before grudgingly putting his suit back on and giving the forces of evil a well-thought-out wedgie.

Of course, it wouldn’t really matter. Horst and Johannes could have spent the whole book making breakfast and it would still have been a delight, because when he’s in Cabal mode, Howard writes like PG Wodehouse on mescaline. While I was waiting for The Brothers Cabal, I also read his Katya’s World books, which are absolutely fine, but somehow lack the joyous whimsicality of the Cabal books. Quite early on, Horst delivers the quintessentially Cabal-ian put down; “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. It would be rude to say it.” and the book maintains that tone magnificently the whole way through. I will be agreeably surprised if I have more fun this year. Though Howard is starting into a new series involving the last known descendant of HP Lovercraft, so I am poised for such surprises. 

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