Royston Blake is back. The now increasingly inaccurately named Mangel trilogy has stretched now to five books, and while Royston may have initially seemed like a bit of a limited character in some ways, his very limitations and refusal to accept his own growth as a character are opening his world up and our understanding of him in brilliantly cutting ways.
When Deadfolk first appeared, Royston and his home town of Mangel were a slightly trippy take on modern England mixing Monty Pythonesque strains of surrealism with pitch black violence and a touch of social commentary between the lines. The Guardian's Alfred Hickling may have been of the belief that the books should be made to wear orange jackets as "penance for their menial yobbery," but he entirely missed the point - - the books were not celebrating ignorance, idiocy or violence but rather exploring (in a bleakly funny fashion) the insanity of the modern world's relationship with such things.
In this fifth book. Royston finds himself teaming up with local burger-van man, Jock (whose accent is a continual bewliderment to Blakey) who is convinced that a bunch of Vampires have infiltrated the local community. Blake, still living in his fantasy world where he's got the face of Clint Eastood and the body of Ivan Drago (part of the fun of the Mangel series is catching the sometimes subtle and sometimes in yer face 80s pop culture references) decides that he believes Jock, especially when he becomes convinced that Jock may actually be a Highlander (there can be only one) after pushing him off a cliff to see if he'll survive the fall. Of course, while the book is predominantly narrated by Royston (with a few interludes from the local media) we all know that there is something else going on, and figuring out just how much of what we see is Blake's fantasy and how much is reality is part of the fun of this series. Especially when you start mixing in ancient societies, Golems and a spirit guide who looks suspiciously like Sean Connery.
There are brilliant (and terrible in the best way) puns aplenty, rollicking violence, astute pop culture references and an acknowledgement (however subtle) of the violence wreaked in previous Mangel novels. And the equation of Vampires to immigrants coming into Mangel very well handled, perhaps making a few salient points which will probably only come to you after you've finished the book. When looking at Made of Stone in comparison to the first few Mangel books, there is perhaps a sense that Wiliams has become increasingly more surreal in his approach to Mangel, but strangely, the more oddball the town becomes, the more real it seems. Its like a modern and even more politically astute version of Pratchett's Discworld; an oddball universe that mirrors our own. With the town's fears of "vampires" mirroring some of the political rights' attitudes to immigrants, it seems clear that Williams isn't just in it for the jokes, but he might just be trying to make us think at the same as we're rolling in the aisles with laughter.
For sheer entertainment and laugh out loud darkness, you can't beat the Mangel novels. Being inside Blakey's "swede" is not an experience for the faint of heart (and that's just the dialect in which he writes) but is always hugely rewarding. Its great to see such a rewarding and unique series allowed the chance to continue, and here at Crime Scene Scotland, we'll be looking forward to the next in the Mangel series with huge excitement.