Bill Posters is the Chosen One; the Britak Tain. Okay, actually he’s choice # 768,271. It’s better not to talk about the ones above him on the list. Suffice it to say, they are no longer around.
It’s up to Bill to save the world, and the pigeons, from the imminent Shark invasion, and he’s got only 24 hours to do so. But he's not alone, Fern will be with him. She’s a Selected, a highly-trained bodyguard. Unfortunately, when you’re the 768,271st choice for Chosen One, you get an equally low-ranked Selected.
What’s To Like...
There are talking pigeons and Segway-riding sharks; heroic corgis and sheep doctors. There’s a Rambo-type mercenary named Gregor Manriguez on Bill’s side, who’s almost as dangerous to everyone else as he is to himself. Bill and Fern make for interesting characters, even if Bill is described as the most unremarkable person in the world.
Humor is always a dicey thing. What one person sees as hilarious; the next person finds stupid. My wife and I have these differing opinions about Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie. Matt Phillips writes this in a Tom Holt literary style (hey, the author name-dropped TH first), and I personally found The Truth About Sharks & Pigeons to be sufficiently witty, and the humor to be blessedly non-repetitive. You won't mistake this for Tom Holt zaniness though.
The ending ties up the basic save-the-world plotline, but leaves lots of loose ends for a sequel, which is reportedly in the works. There are a bunch of “extras” tacked on as appendices – Alternate Endings, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, a pitch for the Soundtrack, Contests, and the first couple chapters of the sequel. The Alt-Endings were a hoot, and the Deleted Scenes appear to be parts that the beta-readers felt were better off left out. I enjoyed both of those sections, but the rest of the extras didn’t do much for me.
Kewlest New Word...
Grotty (adj.) : Unpleasant and of poor quality. (Britishism)
“The Mark?” It’s an ancient pigeon symbol: two circles side by side representing this world and the next, with the pigeon rune for knowledge – an elongated ellipse with the inverted ‘T’ of truth at the top – rising up from in between the circles.”
Bill tried to picture this in his mind, succeeded, and then started rubbing furiously at his forehead. “Are you telling me you have stamped my forehead with an invisible drawing of a –“
Fern grabbed his hand from his forehead and pulled him down the street. “No time for that Bill, we’ve not got a moment to lose.” (loc. 887)
“As most people instinctively realise, the time-space continuum rubs a little thin in launderettes. It makes the teleportation process easier,” he explained.
“I’m sorry, rubs thin?” queried Bill, halting the sheep before he made his way through the curtain.
“Yes, you know. Time passes differently in a launderette. The machine takes an age while you are in there, but leave for thirty seconds and when you come back it has finished and some git has taken all of your clothes and dumped them in a heap on the grubby lid. Tricksy places, launderettes.” (loc. 3459)
The Truth About Sharks & Pigeons sells for $5.99 at Amazon. Matt Phillips also has a couple of short stories posted for $0.99 , but I don’t think they have any tie-in to this storyline.
“Ferr Lap Ing Peck Ingspr Ed Indis Ease.” That’s ancient pigeon,” explained Clyde. “Watch, defend, protect.” (loc. 448)
The mechanics of TTAS&P are good – the pacing is crisp, and the show-don’t-tell maxim is deftly adhered-to. Unfortunately, the storytelling leaves a lot to be desired. A lot of the plot twists seem arbitrary and Deus Ex Machinas pop up with disappointing frequency. Some examples…
Our hero is captured by the baddies at one point, but they don’t see any reason to search him. Bad move, bad guys. The evil stronghold is incredibly easy to penetrate, and as our heroes flee it, Bill somehow manages to find and stow some night-vision binoculars. How necessary later on. How convenient. Later, when a Star-Trek-type transporter is needed, well, guess what pops up?
If you don’t mind these incredible suspensions-of-belief, The Truth About Sharks & Pigeons can be an entertaining read. The raw talent is certainly there. And since this is a debut novel, one can always hope that things will be more polished and refined in the sequel. With a few less YFKM moments in the storyline. 6½ Stars.