Last Bus to Coffeeville was the first novel with a 'golden oldie' protagonist I discovered and devoured and it is still one of my favourites. Filled with cracking characters, enlightening historical insights and a heady dose of dark humour, it was a joyous ride from start to finish packed with a lot of heart. I was therefore delighted when publishers No Exit Press asked if I wanted to be part of the blog tour for author J. Paul Henderson's new novel, The Last of the Bowmans, and receive a copy of his latest book for review. The answer was of course, hell yes!
Lyle Bowman is dead to begin with. His passing forces his estranged son Greg to return home to England and make nice at the funeral with what is left of the Bowman family, including Lyle's other son Billy, Billy's horsey wife Jean and obnoxious little daughter Katy, and Uncle Frank who most people assume has gone a little senile. Despite a congregation of just eleven, a bamboo coffin, an unexpected rendition of Britney Spears' Hit Me Baby One More Time, one guest stealing the last of the custard creams, and Uncle Frank driving the Reverend crazy as he's trying to debunk the stories in the bible, the funeral goes without a hiccup.
It's when Greg temporarily moves back into his elderly home while getting his father's affairs in order that things start to go a little south. Rather than just fixing up the house so he and Billy can get a better price for it, his father has one last card up his sleeve as he asks his eldest son to fix the problems running in the family. Lyle explains that Uncle Frank keeps turning himself in at the police station for crimes he hasn't committed and something is up with Billy too. And it's up to Greg to figure out the reasons behind his family's peculiar behaviour. For years Greg was able to ignore his family while he made a career for himself in America, but it's finally time for him to take responsibility and uncover what is really going on with the Bowmans.
My description of the novel makes it sound like it is heavy with regret, reconciliation and rediscovery, and while these are certainly strong themes running throughout, there is far more to The Last of the Bowmans than initially meets the eye – which is actually very similar to Greg's journey with both his brother and his uncle. Rather than a constant air of melancholy hanging over the story, this is one of dark, dark humour and strange happenstances. Mental at times, but oh so fun! I can't say anything more about the peculiar twists taking place within this book, as the unexpectedness of the plot and some of the bizarre backstories had a heavy hand in making this such a fabulous read, and I don't want to spoil that surprise for other readers.
What I can say is that The Last of the Bowmans is an absolutely cracking novel, filled with the author's unique style of morbid comedy. Once again he has written a hugely engrossing read, which perfectly balances eccentricity and humour with reality and heartbreak. It sounds like an impossible combination, perhaps, but J. Paul Henderson makes it work, flawlessly.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
The Last of the Bowmansis published by No Exit Press and you can buy a copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.