Dr Newton Barlow has everything a scientist could ask for – a glittering career both in the lab and on television, a beautiful wife, and best of all, the opportunity to promote his rock-solid certainty that supernatural and religious beliefs are nothing but complete and utter hokum. But Barlow is about to take a tumble. Mired in accusations of fraud, incompetence and malpractice, Newton is cast out from the scientific establishment and ejected from the family home. His life in tatters, he descends into a wine-sodden wilderness. Then, after three lost years, Barlow is suddenly approached by his old mentor and fellow sceptic Dr Sixsmith with an extraordinary proposition, an offer that Newton simply cannot refuse. There’s just one small problem:
Dr Sixsmith is dead.
Thrown headlong into a new reality that simply shouldn’t exist, Dr Newton Barlow is about to come up against the best and the worst of human nature: tooled-up vicars, paper-pushing ancient Greeks, sinister property developers, a saucy rubber nun and possibly the most mean-spirited man ever to have walked the earth (twice).
From the dusty plains of Spain to the leafy vicarages of Hampshire, Dr Barlow will have to contradict everything he ever believed in if he wants to save this world – and the next.
T J Brown was born in Dorset during the 1960s but was too young to realise how good the decade was meant to be. Instead, he had to make do with the 1970s, which only became interesting towards the end when many, Brown included, started wearing charity-shop clothes and swearing. Conscription into arts school was at this time mandatory and as a result Brown found himself reading German literature, creating miserable paintings and performing music that in retrospect, and at the time, was dreadful.
After three lost years at art school Brown moved to London to begin five lost years on the margins of the capital’s fashionable underbelly. After all that, a career in publishing almost came as a relief. And so, after many years producing illustrated books on astronomy and aviation, Brown returned to his love of comic writing.
It was a fun ride, but it went on too long and lost its humorous momentum. The idea of Dr. Newton Barlow, disgraced scientist, as the unhappy medium was a great set-up, but the set-up bits of the book were longer than necessary. This would be a hoot for a TV series idea! Not likely to pick up vol. 2 unless it's free or 99¢.
Few books take me more than a couple of days to read, this book took about 6 weeks.
Considering the originality, humour, excitement and quality of the majority of the book, I can't understand how it came to pass that there is nothing gripping for several chapters at the beginning. Only the fact I'm a physicist like Newton made me carry on at first, his character really appealed to me.
After two weeks I went on Amazon to check I hadn't been mistaken in seeing a 4* average review and I wasn't alone. Yet now I've finished it I feel that it was so good that I can only remove one star... reluctantly!
The writing is superb, the usual mistakes present in ebooks are, thankfully, absent, all loose ends have been tied up at the end.
I highly recommend this book but you will have to hurry through the beginning.
I got so far into this book, only to find myself thinking - who cares? So, not for me. Far too facile, far too knowingly humorous, far too reminiscent of college humour of twenty years past. However, I really do think Brown has missed his calling - his depictions of bona fide history were masterly. I seriously think he would be better writing humorous histories for adults. I enjoyed these interludes far more than the rest of the book...
This longish novel was a lovely read, and the prose is often rather delicious (and as a Yank I'm probably obligated to also say how very British it seemed). There are lots of frills and brief side-tours that add spice and interest, especially for those readers who like a good rumble around an antique store.
After an eerie little prologue, the story starts waaaay back in the mid-1100s giving obscure historical details that are crucial to the rest of the story, even if it might not seem so at first. Most of the story takes place "right about now", and the protagonist is Newton Barlow, a hip young theoretical physicist and TV personality—sort of like an even groovier Carl Sagan but into fusion research instead of cosmology. Newton has his ups and downs. Real mind-blowing downs, in fact, about 20% through the book. But much of the story also concerns his re-rise from the depths, and I won't tell you how. Chapter Nine contains the narrative of a wonderful first date; the kind all of us might love to experience with that real deep instant connection and awesome sauce poured all over it.
The action/adventure elements ratchet up rather a lot in the last quarter or so. I enjoyed a load of characters, like the bespectacled mentor, the fab new girlfriend, the sullen teenage daughter, the trigger happy priest, the medieval machinery, the Spanish Inquisition, and the souped-up Citroën. Golly. In fact, I woke up around 4:00 a.m., after having stopped 86% of the way through the book the night before, and scurried into my dark study to read the rest of it.
Along the way through the 400 e-pages of this delightful work, I didn't spot even one typographical error, so this one has now been inducted into the company of other Golden Rodent award recipients.
Oh... I obtained this for free during one of those Amazon promotions, but in retrospect, I would gladly have paid the going $3.99 price.
The Unhappy Medium has everything I look for in a comedic fantasy/SF novel. The protagonist is a skeptic (think Mythbusters, James Randi, Harry Houdini et al) who finds that reality is...not as he had always assumed. Call it supernatural noir with a dash of historical (not to mention prehistorical) fiction for flavor, along the lines of the Bobby Dollar series by Tad Williams, the Inferno series by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the Reality Dysfunction series by Peter F. Hamilton, or the Ghost Trilogy by L. E. Modesitt.
Although the novel is a self-contained story, the author also sets up what looks to be a bang-up series. Highly recommended to any SF, fantasy, or horror fan who likes their humor dry and their spooks snarky. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say if any of this sounds like your cup of tea (with a nod to the charming UK and continental settings, including castles *and* pubs, not to mention the lovingly restored WWI-era tank that plays a role), grab this book!
It's one thing to write a funny book - and this is certainly a very funny book - but it's another to weave in advanced science and a far-reaching roam through history and make it all seem necessary to the story. That's the great thing about this book: the obvious joy taken in knowledge and the world itself serves to season a supernatural romp with something altogether mature. It could easily be a series - let's hope it is - and any one of its themes would be enough for most writers. Ambitious, eh - but successful too. Eminently readable and like nothing quite else out there, this is great fun.
A very funny book, in the spirit (pun intended) of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens, or the writing of Christopher Moore. Initial chapters set up the various characters, paying off in a rollicking finish as they come together later in the story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
This could have been good but was crying out for an edit. There was so much casual sexism in this book it makes me question whether the author has ever met a woman. Stilettos aren't all stripper heels. Having your ghosts walk around saying I'm a bad girl feels like a weird porn insert. His ex wife wasn't an evil seductress taking advantage of him, he was just an idiot who ignored all his marital problems. Women on dating sites aren't all crazy. Grown women aren't girls and shouldn't be called girls. In this book women are either evil heartless bitches or life giving angels and there is no in between. Like really, his dead nan wants to come back from purgatory and clean his house and make him bread? Sounds really realistic. If you're a horrible woman you can be redeemed only if you are Newton's daughter and it is because of some magic talk he gave you where he made your mental health struggles all about himself. Now you're cured!
There was sooo much sidetracking from the plot. Boring exposition. World building for a novel set in the real world is unnecessary. Really should have been half as long. No one cares about the family tree of the museum curator who appears three times. Get to the bloody point.
The main character was intensely unlikable, probably because we see all the sexism coming from him. So boring. So smug. So predictable. Like wow Newton, you know science. We get it. Let's go ruin this ghost walk your daughter wanted to go on because despite being a grown man you just can't hold your tongue. Sarcasm isn't a personality. He doesn't have any levels as a character. He never acted differently under pressure, he was never stressed. Always just a smug prick. Anything he supposedly did feel we were told and not shown. He is claustrophobic but never felt walls pressing in or air being sucked out. Just looks at a narrow tunnel and says I don't like that but goes on in anyway.
Villain was boring. The most evil man ever and that was what we got? Some sex mad priest who liked torturing people? Yawn.
There also never seemed to be any stakes. No one was ever really in danger. They were in dangerous situations but there wasn't any atmosphere of tension built.
When the plot did get going it was interesting and enjoyable but then the good bits were interrupted by pointless people appearing or some boring comment. Or truly terrible similes and metaphors.
This book really does have potential but just needs an edit and some direction and focus. Realising at the 90% mark it was self published made everything make sense.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This rambling, overlong tale of a disgraced academic Newton Barlow, who is suddenly offered a new career from beyond the grave as a medium (a very unhappy one at that) just seemed to stretch on and on into eternity (much like the fate of the characters in the book). There was something about another disgraced sales executive, who was possessed by a very disgraced, evil Cardinal and how they all get together for some ritualistic human sacrifice in order to escape purgatory. The act of reading the novel became almost purgatory in itself - it seemed to just go on - and on - and on. The potential for humour was there - but I couldn't really find it, although the odd phrase made me smile.
The story took too long to set up - as early as chapter three I was thinking 'this could do with a good edit' to tighten up the plot. I won't offer any spoilers - I'm afraid by 75% of the way through my Kindle edition (so I gave it a good go) I decided I didn't deserve to suffer through any more and I gave up, so I don't actually know what happened in the end. I don't like giving up on books - but by that stage I'd decided that actually I didn't really care anymore. Disappointing.
While I will agree with some of the other reviews that the writing can feel a little long winded at times, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The concept of a ‘disgraced’ theoretical physicist becoming a medium is not something I have come across before and I really did enjoy the way the author described Purgatory and what can happen after death. I do wish the book contained more interactions between Newton and actual spirits, but apart from that I can’t complain. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a light read as it can be a bit wordy, but if you’re looking for something humorous and original involving the paranormal I’d definitely recommend it. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel!
The thing that stands out to me about this book is that it's old fashioned. But not always in a good way. In the kind of way where the most mean-spirited bits of old British comedies have been melded together. It's very easy to pinpoint the sphere of comedy T J Brown is writing in, and it is undoubtedly very British, with all the smarmyness and self-importance that show up in the characters. As an atheist, horror-loving, British comedy fanatic I was hoping for a bit of spooky fun, but I was left a little disappointed.
The main character of Dr Newton Barlow is someone who the narrative voice clearly thinks is very cool. Even when he's at his lowest, to those who aren't immediately sympathetic to the 'asshole athiest' type, Newton's dismissiveness will probably not culminate in you liking him but rather thinking he has only two traits: 'I love science' and 'I hate religion'- to me this made the main theme of Newton's scepticism being challenged ring a little hollow, because it manifests in repetitive one-liners about how logical Newton is (and you will be told at every opportunity). Even though he does go through change, it doesn't come soon enough because by this time the book has already given off a mountain of quips that make the whole thing come off as self-indulgent. Most characters are designed to be larger-than-life caricatures, and in most cases it works (like the salesman Christopher Baxter, or the estate developers the Macaulays, who are fun to dislike) but others like Newton's bitch ex-wife are less of a fun pantomime type and more of a flat-out uninspired imitation. The sheer amount of casual sexism is pretty shocking.
The book's other problem is pace. It really suffers from a lack of editing. To be fair to T J Brown, he does try to make every chapter funny and have its own charm. There are lots of chapters that are witty and atmospheric without being strictly all about the main plot, such as the beginning chapter detailing the backstory of the museum curator or the battle of Juggin's lump. But as a result Newton's rise, fall and recruitment take a long while to get going. This, crossed with the earlier-mentioned fact that I didn't bond with Newton as a character, had me groaning and not looking forward to reading the book. The action chapters do not help in providing a quicker pace compared to the long chapters of exposition, of which there are many. The info it's dumping on you is easy to understand, there just didn't need to be so much of it. One thing that annoyed me was how there were around 6 separate jokes where the punchline is 'reality TV'. The first one of these was funny, but they are recycled throughout the book in a way I'm surprised anyone thought wouldn't be entirely obvious.
However, I did make it through the whole book. There are some more genuine moments, like Newton missing his mentor's funeral or connecting with his daughter Gabi. Additionally his girlfriend Viv's fears about making Gabi feel welcome also feel sweet and more realistic. On the horror side, the machine from the antagonist Cardinal La Senza provides some chilling moments, and every description of it had me gleefully upset. This book does have wit, and whilst a rather large portion of the jokes fell flat for me, T J Brown does pepper endless similies and snark throughout to keep the reader entertained. The premise does keep its originality too, with a healthy amount of archaic and modern fears combined.
This book will probably appeal best to people like its main character; young adults like me, even ones who find British comedy funny, will likely grow a little tired of the stereotype veins that run through it and the plodding pace.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This was great fun. Science, skeptics, supernatural, evil corporations, ghosts, bitchy ex wife, sullen teenager, religious fanatics, and a layer of Richard Bach Illusions (and the effortless art of car maintenance), just for starters. Lots of disparate components eventually converged at the end with no loose ends. It was just a wacky blend of unlikely ingredients tied together with a fun story and lots of dry Brit humor, a satisfying conclusion, and an opening for more adventures. If my life wasn't so crazy, I would have gobbled this up in one night. Wavered on the stars (4-1/2 or 5?) but given the fun, coherent story and no major editing goofs, had to give credit.
If you enjoy British humour, a good mystery mixed with a bit of paranormal, then this is a book for you. You'll do a lot of eye-rolling and grinning, that will have others watching you and doubting your sanity.
I won't give any spoilers, but the book centers around a bad spirit that escapes the confines of Purgatory, and it's up to humans - under the direction of some wacky good ghosts/spirits - to get the bad spirit back to his prison cell in Purgatory. Does that grab you attention?
If you want to remove yourself from the pressures of your life or work, then I highly recommend this book.
There are very few books that I haven't finished, in fact only two in my lifetime. This is one. I just couldn't get past the boring scientific background story before getting to what could have been good. Others have said once you get to the meat of the story it's good. I just couldn't get there. There was nothing to peak my interest to keep turning those pages. I also found no humor in the 5 or so chapters that I read.
A comic fantasy in the vein of (on the one hand) Terry Pratchett and (on the other) Tom Sharpe, with an admixture of Tom Holt.
Sometime in, approximately, the late 1990s or early 2000s, in the vicinity of London, strange things are happening. Star plastic salesperson Christopher Baxter, a clean freak, finds himself for reasons he cannot explain picking up a filthy hitchhiker in his Lexus, and taking him far out of his (Baxter's) way. The hitchhiker, after being dropped off, finds and destroys the last relic of a particularly evil person. The upshot is that Christopher finds himself unemployed.
Meanwhile, Newton Barlow - who is our hero - is having troubles of his own. He is a star physicist, who, first in a University lab and then in a much better one sponsored by an evil corporation named Havotech, researches bubble fusion. He also appears on television regularly, arguing against the existence of the supernatural. He too loses his job in a spectacular fashion, is divorced by his wife, and finds himself working for a rather sleazy "science" magazine...
...until he is contacted by his mentor, Dr. Sixsmith, who has a job offer for him. The only problem is, Sixsmith is dead. He works for the afterlife, and wants Barlow to be an agent for Purgatory (they know very little about Heaven or Hell). Barlow resists as long as possible, but eventually takes the job, finding it actually a great deal of fun. His job is to find relics of dead evil people and bring them in for disposal.
Alas: one of history's most horrible people, one Cardinal Balthazar La Senza, has escaped from Purgatory. La Senza was the Inquisitor that Torquemada first admired and finally had to jettison as being _too_ cruel and evil.
A cult funded by some real estate developers with a taste for evil relics and headed by the lineal descendant of La Senza's right hand man has acquired a number of La Senza's relics. Christopher Baxter turns out to be the perfect vessel for the revenant soul, who quickly turns out to be too evil even for the tastes of his followers, but it's too late.
This all sounds dark and serious, but it's actualy hilarious with intermittent darkness and seriousness. The writing is workmanlike, designed to throw twists (both plot twists and verbal twists) at the reader unexpectedly. To my surprise I quite enjoyed the book, and will eventually look up the sequel.
So, what did I like about it? Oh, loads! Where do I begin…
T.J. Brown is a new-to-me author and I found his writing style very easy to read. His descriptions, characters and plot development engaged me from the very first page and kept me reading. The first few chapters set up the feel of the story (think Horrible Histories for adults or Discworld irreverence) and I loved the way that Mr Brown wove facts, stories and theories from history and science throughout his tale.
There are a lot of great characters in this book, all of whom have their own back-story, complexities and foibles that make them feel real.
Now of course, being a ‘paranormal comedy’ this book made me laugh but the emotions didn’t stop there, the mystery kept me intrigued, the injustice made me cry and the romance made me smile. The story kept me guessing and kept me turning the pages – I was gripped.
So, ummm, was there anything I disliked about it? Nope – hence the 5 stars!
...So, basically what I’m saying is... This is a great paranormal tale, I really enjoyed it; it was such a fun read! The characters were entertaining, the plot was interesting and I enjoyed the twists & turns. T.J. Brown is a new-to-me author and I will be adding more of his novels to my Amazon wish list. I would recommend this book if you like stories from paranormal, urban fantasy or science fiction genres.
This reviews the audiobook. Good narration for the most part. Okay, I got over my initial confusion and disgust with the unpleasant characters. It finally got funny. Not that I larfed out loud or anything, but it was a relief when the vicar stepped into the story. There was more backstory than I was interested in. In fact, it started with backstory - so much so that I wondered if I had received the correct audiobook and had to check. I feel that the book could have used that thingie where it starts in medias res so you want to know how it got to this state of affairs. And then we had to slog through the villain's interminable backstory, which we needed to know, I grant you, but it just went on and on and on in hyperbolic evil. When we finally meet our "hero" - Newton - he's an asshole. Of the Richard Dawkins variety: too smart and way too smug. Very annoying - and I'm an atheist. He deserves everything he has coming to him, which I guess is supposed to humanize him. He does become a bit less annoying. Still, as he sinks into doing exactly the wrong thing when with his daughter, I cringed. By the end, though, I was on his side and almost tempted to continue with the series. Almost. Not sure I want to fritter my audio credits on it. I would never return the book, although the company allows it, but I was sorely tempted in the beginning. I've kept worse. At the very least it's not the narrator's fault. This one, in fact, did his best, although I think he softened the ex-wife a bit too much at the end. But the vicar. Oh, he made my day. Bless 'im. Not that I think he should keep appearing. One can get too much of a good thing.
Creative, unique, enjoyable and full of lough-out-loud moments. A terribly fun read, and I gotta say it was a long time ago that I had such a good time reading a new book. I'd give it 4.5 stars actually. It had a very slow start, sometimes confusing even, spending maybe too much time on small details that made no sense at the beginning. I'd say less is sometimes more, and that describes the first few chapters and some overly vivid descriptions too (tho I strangely enjoyed all of them). But there was a pivotal moment when action kicked in and there was no stopping from there! I loved the balance between the predictable twists and the absolute surprise turns! Although the humor was wavering between ingenious and 5th grade style what made this book an outstanding read to me were the hidden little windows opening to our reality. Christopher Baxter and his emptiness making him a perfect vessel for possession; that dilemma if mayhaps our world was already completely ruled by evil for the evil without La Senza's help... Newton's whole career going down the drain because of capitalistic greed, and that dirty, dirty McCauley business ruining simple lives on the altair of... "development". Very well done. My personal favorite was naturally the priests I gotta admit. Newton and the Reverend made such a hilarious pair and the scenes in Spain were all spectacularly good!
Would've loved to read more about Newton's cases he got as a "Purgatorian" so I'm quite delighted that there is a part two. I'm gonna get myself immersed with delight.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This book is a cartoony romp. Either that works for you or it doesn't.
I found it kind of hard to get into the world on this one. It was fun from the beginning, and the characters who were supposed to be likeable were definitely likeable, but I just couldn't connect for the first quarter of the book. At that point there was a very nice father-daughter scene which pretty much acted as a touchstone for the rest of the story.
My other complaint was the under representation of female characters among the 'major' parts. Those female characters who appeared for more than a page or two were either romantic interest or the above mentioned daughter. Worse yet, it was pretty clear that the function within the book of having a female villain was to have a character who 'could' commit physical violence on the hero's romantic interest and daughter (because even villains in this world can't be shown committing violence against women, even if it's explicit in their back story...) I found it very strange, and a little stilted.
The metaphysics are unique, and the skepticism of the protagonist is well done. The villains are over the top (see cartoony above) and definitely in if FOR TEH EVULZ, but that's pretty well lampshaded. There are plenty of wacky visuals, and some fun characters and classic bits.
Pick it up when you're in the mood to NOT overthink things.
I am not profligate with my review stars; I so rarely give out 5 that you'd assume I have to manufacture them one at a time. Not for me the gushing, breathless 5's for something that just barely ruffles the surface with a thrill of plot or ripple of humor, no: It's got to be really clever, intelligent and heavy on irony to earn my full complement of stars and a place on the "favorites" shelf - which T J Brown and The Unhappy Medium have done. Furthermore, I have gone and purchased the novel, and its sequel, which should go a long way to shoring up my opinion that it's one of the best I have read since embarking on this lark of Kindle ownership.
The Unhappy Medium is more than a "supernatural tale"; it's a lovely satire on academics, developers, family life, the afterlife and probably more besides. The language is just plain delicious, the descriptions of even the most loathsome characters almost loving in their precision. The plot, for all its "little" twists and complications is lean and fighting-fit; there's nothing extraneous - not even in the historical background-y bits. Though it can be placed in that catch-all category of "British romps", it stands out from its peers in that it is genuinely smart; Brown does not stoop to slapstick in getting his laughs, and they are of the "out loud" variety.
I loved Newton Barlow and Alex Sixsmith, hated the MacCauleys and cheered on the Purgatorians; it was a cracker of a story, and I was disappointed that it all had to end. T J Brown is a new author to me, but on the strength of this novel, I am a follower. I look forward to searching out as much of the rest of his writing as I can find, there to dispose of as many five-star reviews and space on my Kindle as I am able.
Newton is a physicist who abhors anything that smacks of the supernatural or unexplainable. Successful at first, things fall apart when he loses the backing of a major company (and his job), is publicly disgraced and his wife divorces him. His already near non-existent relationship with his daughter suffers even more. Trying to get his life back on track, unusual things start to happen, followed by a visit from the ghost of his scientific and kindly uncle-like mentor, Alex. It turns out the highly skeptical Newton is being recruited as a medium between life and purgatory, to help rid purgatory of evildoers and stop them coming back to wreak havoc on Earth. I think I had higher expectations for this book from what I'd read about it, which may have influenced giving it 3 stars rather than 4. (Edit: On reflection, it felt unfair giving the overall story 3 stars so I came back to change it to 4 😅). It's not really a comedy as such but it does have some humorous moments and description. I guess it was advertised as one to show it's less serious/ more lighthearted than some supernatural offerings out there. It seemed a little slow for several chapters, in the background and build-up. But once it got going, it was enjoyable and engaging. I've since found that there's a second book which I'm definitely interested in reading.
This is certainly an unusual book. The premise is a good vs evil plot with a highly unlikely cast of characters. Science meets the afterlife in a book that tackles capitalism, teenage angst, fame, history, and just plain old bad guys.
Something I appreciate greatly about this book is that the author didn't dumb it down for the reader; he assumes that we readers have the brain power to get the references and understand the science. I enjoy books where I feel the author's personality come through, as it does in this one.
The book describes itself as a "supernatural comedy" and it is very funny in places, less so in others. The humour is very British and dry for the most part, and most of it is very well done. The humour - thank God - does not rely on easy targets such as racism or fat jokes, but is generally quite clever.
At just under 400 pages, it runs slightly overlong. Through most of the book, I found every page worthwhile though there were a few spots in which I found the pace dragging a bit. I see that many other reviewers complained about the length of the book, but it really was not a big problem for me.
Overall, I found this book to be entertaining, interesting, original, and funny. I've recommended it to friends already.
I’m well jealous of how clever TJ Brown must be to have so accurately nailed all these different facets of life. He so sharply imitates and lampoons everything from complex physics to what it’s like to be a teenage girl, that I’m certain his understanding of humanity and science and history and the arts fill a well much deeper than the average consciousness.
I’ve knocked this down a star because I'm too deeply in love with writing styles that are less verbose. I'm sort of a Hemingway and Twain girl at heart, and I find it hard to really get stuck in to books like TJ Brown's which don’t subscribe to the religion of Less-Is-More. I read this novel for a book club at work though, so I wasn't able to just throw in the towel early on (as I'll admit I was tempted to do)... and I'm so thankful that I didn't!
The story-line was clever and hilarious, and the characters were well-built and lovable (even the evil ones, in a pantomime sort of way). The ending was fab! Such a fun roller coaster of exciting action and witty dialogue. I’ve just finished, and I can’t stop smiling. Loved it.