Grim by Glaswegian author Gavin McCallion is a monstrous Halloween delight. In the style of magical realism made popular by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, the story follows three narratives masterfully interwoven into one darkly fantastical plot. In a world where Death has given up on humanity after the Second World War, Reapers are now a local council position, equipped with a tablet telling them their schedule and a cloak to transport them around. If you like dark comedy, intricate worldbuilding and flawed yet lovable characters, Grim is guaranteed to put a smile on your face this spooky season.
The story centres around hapless Grim who is just terrible at his job. A dad who dies when his daughter is very young, Grim is brought back 20 years later to be the new Reaper of Wilson Wells, an island with perpetual rainfall reminiscent of Lanark’s city of Unthank. Grim only wants to reunite with his daughter Cora, but must wrestle with the logistics of sending souls to the afterlife, Cora’s embittered stepfather Thomas and a psychopathic judge who has been kidnapping local teens. There is also the issue that he is dead.
The judge of any good book is its characters, and Grim is bursting with personalities that will stick with you even when you put the book down. Lovable Grim is apologetic and delightfully out of place in a world of smartphones and new Star Wars films. It is difficult to be fond of the aggressive, alcoholic stepfather Thomas at first, but he grows on you with his dogged determination to rescue his daughter and recover his old life. Of the villains, long-suffering Derek is hard to hate, despite his atrocities committed in the name of his employer, the depraved Judge Hugh Rabbit Jr. The judge, on the other hand, is quirky, scary, and stylish, yet unoriginal: a murderous villain whose only discernible motive is psychopathy, his is the only characterisation that falls flat.
Best of all, however, is the narration from snarky, sarcastic, and wonderfully witty Cora. Locked in a basement and forced to rehearse all day with four other kidnapped teenagers, she recounts the tale from beginning to end; from her uncomfortable conception in a bus stop right through to the thunderously paced ending. With sarcastic asides and raw, honest depictions of mental health issues and the difficulties of being a gay girl surrounded by heterosexual teens for a year, you will find yourself missing her strong personality when the novel’s focus moves to the exploits of her dads, Derek and the victims of Judge Rabbit’s whims.
Overall, there is good reason to read Grim this autumn. Get yourself in the Halloween spirit with a story about ghouls, ghosts and the world’s worst Reaper. Be prepared for swearing, scatological silliness and most of all, a spine-tingling story.
Grim by Gavin McCallion.
Image: Spanish Virtually via Flickr