Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman

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Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Bizarre tale of a modern day collector of Nazi artifacts searching for something and a scientist interested in eugenics studying a boxer in 1930’s London. The modern day parts work really well, but much of the 1930’s story doesn’t.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 256 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-0340998397

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According to the blurb for Boxer, Beetle, ‘’This is a novel for people with breeding… It is clever. It is distinctive. It is entertaining. We hope you are too.’’ I like about half of it, so does that mean I’m on the way to being those things?

That disappointment with half of the book is all the more heartfelt because there are some excellent parts to it. It hooked me in straight away with an opening chapter in which we’re introduced to narrator Fishy, a collector of Nazi memorabilia and sufferer from a rare disease which makes him smell horrendously bad. Just a few pages in, Fishy goes to check on a private investigator working for his boss and finds both the investigator’s corpse and a bizarre letter written by Adolf Hitler himself.

We’re then transported back to 1934 London, when we meet a boxer called Seth ‘Sinner’ Roach, who Fishy’s boss had mentioned, and a scientist Philip Erskine. Erskine has spent many years studying beetles and is now aiming to apply his knowledge to humans, starting with Roach, who’s not so keen. The pair of characters are both faintly repulsive, as are many of the surrounding cast in this part of the story, and unfortunately it’s the 1930’s which dominates rather than the current day scenario.

The main part of the novel is taken up with Erskine trying to breed his beetles and to examine Sinner, while we occasionally jump back to the present for tantalisingly short chapters as Fishy has realised that he’s in a dangerous situation with some scary people coming after him. Unused to even leaving his house much because of his condition, he’s forced to come up with increasingly bizarre ways to keep himself in one piece. Fishy is a superb character – certainly not likeable, but at least sympathetic, and I was practically groaning every time the action moved back from him to Roach and Erskine in the 1930’s. We also get a bizarre part about Erskine’s grandfather, who was aiming to promote his own world language similar to Esperanto, which doesn’t seem to add anything of interest to the novel.

It’s certainly not a complete failure as a book – as mentioned above, the opening chapter is superb, and the closing chapter, when the two stories are finally brought properly together, is excellent, a bizarre but entertaining end to Fishy’s quest. Unfortunately, too much of what’s in between is lethargic and uninteresting for me to really recommend this one. I enjoyed the few modern parts of it so much that I’m definitely interested in reading more by Ned Beauman, however. I’ve just looked him up on the internet and found out he’s only 24, so hopefully there’ll be much more to come from him.

Further Reading: Having spent longer looking for a suitable comparison than I did writing this review, I’m really struggling here. As bizarre a comparison as it seems, fans of the humour in the modern bits might enjoy Thank You, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse though.

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Buy Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman at


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