ARC Book Review: The Stranger Times by C. K. McDonnell

The Stranger TimesTitle: The Stranger Times
Author: C. K. McDonnell
Publisher: Bantam Press
Publication Date: 14th January 2021
Genre: Mystery / Fantasy
Summary: There are Dark Forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular) and so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them. A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but more often the weird) of modern life, it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable…

I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. Thank you to the author, C. K. McDonnell, and the publisher, Bantam Books, for this opportunity.


The Stranger Times was a fun, fast-paced mystery novel that is a little bit out of the ordinary. Although it’s set in dreary Manchester, The Stranger Times brought a bit of light into my final days of 2020. Before I start the main review, I just want to mention that there is some racist and homophobic language in the book. Racist and homophobic behaviour is always called out by other characters, mainly the main character, but I just wanted to mention that it’s there. 

I loved the plot, I loved the setting, and I really liked the characters. The overarching plot is fantastic. It is full of action and McDonnell creates an unusual feeling of suspense. I’m not actually sure how to describe it but the novel does not necessarily focus on finding out who was murdering people, like detective novels do, but figuring out why and the way the story is told – through switching POVs – builds suspense as you’re fed snippets of the antagonist’s plan and his actions but you’re never given the full story. I’m not going to lie, at times I was slightly more interested in the scenes at the Stranger Times offices – the daily insanity of working there – rather than the actual plot. Don’t get me wrong, the main plot was excellent and the way McDonnell added magical aspects to mundane Manchester was skilfully done, but I just loved the light-hearted moments when Hannah, the main character, and her colleagues were at work. For me, it was this combination of a dark, dangerous mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat and frequent bizarre, but jovial, snippets of life working at The Stranger Times that made this book so great. 

McDonnell’s writing style was a complete joy to read. The novel was funny, fast-paced (but well-paced too!), and dynamic but also dark, tense, and almost theatrical. McDonnell takes our world, specifically Manchester, and infuses it with magic and I really enjoyed this particular take on magical realism because it was presented as an underground world. Not literally underground but ‘underground’ in the sense that it is hidden from the rest of the world, like a black market or the mafia or something. 

Each character was unique – very unique, in fact – and multi-faceted and, although I think it helps that most of the main characters were a little bit odd, they were all memorable. Hannah was almost wonderfully bland in the beginning of the novel. She acted as a foil to the other characters, mainly because she was so different and so out of place, but she has her share of quirks too which were revealed throughout the novel and I loved her as a main character.  

Overall, I just really enjoyed this novel! It was odd but wonderful and I’d highly recommend it if you’re up for a dark read full of magical realism. I’d definitely buy it for myself so I can read it again and, if this becomes a series, I’d read the sequel too!


Final note: I’m so glad this was set in Manchester. I need to read more books set in the North of England. 

(Goodreads | – Affiliate)

This post contains affiliate links. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Thank you again to Netgalley, C. K. McDonnell, and Bantam Books for providing me with a digital copy of this book.

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3 thoughts on “ARC Book Review: The Stranger Times by C. K. McDonnell

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