Fat Charlie Nancy is one of life’s perennial losers. The childhood nickname has stuck long after the excess kilos have gone, he can’t seem to get ahead at work, and now his always-embarrassing father has dropped dead mid-karaoke. Fat Charlie goes back to Florida for the funeral, and is surprised to hear than he has a brother - one who’ll appear in answer to a message sent by a spider. After he returns to London, a spider conveniently appears in the bathtub, and soon after his long-lost brother arrives on his doorstep. But this is no ordinary reunion; turns out old Mr. Nancy was Anansi, an African trickster god, and all those god-like powers have been inherited by Spider, who moves into Fat Charlie’s house and life and shows no signs of leaving. Soon he’s dating Fat Charlie’s fiancée, Rosie, and taking his place at work - the upshot of which is that his slimy boss decides Fat Charlie is just the person to frame for his own embezzling. Throw in a suspicious client, a determined policewoman, a quartet of elderly ladies with a talent for magic, Rosie’s battleaxe of a mother and a bunch of animal gods living at the edge of the world, and Fat Charlie’s life will never be quite the same again.
It took me quite a while to get into this book; I’m not sure whether that was because the brotherly conflict took so long to start, or because I’m not conversant with African mythology, or both. Even after finishing the book, talking animals living in caves at the end of the world still strikes me as bizarre. There’s something to be said for subverting the familiar rather than going with the unknown. But at least it was educational.
The villain of the piece, cliché-spouting Grahame Coats, could have been really annoying, but managed not to be thanks to his awareness of his love of trite phrases, and his delight at the extra ones made available by his descent into a more hands-on style of crime. I couldn’t help hoping that underdog Charlie would come out on top for once, and liked the way in which the brothers became more like each other. Spider learnt how to be normal (more or less) and to think of people other than himself, and Charlie acquired some of Spider’s confidence and poise. The others were mostly likeable, but not anyone I got too attached to; in fact, my favourite character was a secondary one who spent most of the time dead. Entertaining enough, but nothing like as good as, say, Neverwhere; I think this is one for the Gaiman fans.