If you like the quirky combination of cold-blooded murder and life-affirming integrity, then give this off-the-wall novel a whirl. It’s inventive, original and utterly unpredictable, a bizarre blend of metaphysical meandering alongside a cracking crime-thriller. ‘The Fish…’ also features a simply brilliant beginning – one of the best opening chapters I’ve ever read, in fact – in which the spirit of a deceased father watches in horror as his adult son is gruesomely murdered by a genuinely menacing gangster. From there, things only get stranger…
…but the otherworldly wanderings and philosophical wonderings are neatly balanced by an almost idyllic rendition of middle-class school days and the blissful, early independence of post-adolescence. Author Kevin Ansbro skilfully lulls his audience into a warm, cosy glow of bourgeois banality, and then takes a wrecking ball to our sensibilities as he shatters the suburban serenity with blank-faced brutality. His criminal characters are convincingly malevolent, and they bring the story’s more playful segments back to reality with vicious efficiency.
The result is a crime-thriller unlike any other. As in Neil Gaiman’s fiction, there are no boundaries between realities, but ‘The Fish…’ abounds with down-to-earth, engaging characters who keep you anchored to the narrative. The whole book is effectively an intense cliff-hanger, the story propelled along by that powerful prologue.
Ansbro obviously has an immense affection for language and a definite talent for wrangling words to exuberant effect. The story’s momentum does get sidetracked, however, buried by the author’s enthusiasm for entertaining anecdotes. There’s an entire thread about writing a sci-fi novel which simply slows everything down without serving the storyline. There are several ‘surplus to requirement’ characters who actively detract from the narrative – a commercial editor would have amputated them and considerably sharpened the story.
But one outstanding character – the Body Snatcher – more than makes up for the deviation and hesitation. And despite his penchant for playful digression, Ansbro expertly keeps a supply of literary powder dry, ready to surprise and delight you at the most unexpected moments.
The result is whimsical, a little bit weird, and a little bit wonderful.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Fish That Climbed A Tree by Kevin Ansbro is available at Amazon