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To Hell and Back #1

The Damned Busters

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After accidentally summoning a demon, Chesney Anstruther refuses to sell his soul, which leads through various confusions to, well, Hell going on strike. Which means that nothing bad ever happens in the world… with disastrous consequences.

413 pages, Paperback

First published May 31, 2011

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About the author

Matthew Hughes

176 books253 followers
Born in Liverpool, his family moved to Canada when he was five years old. Married since late 1960s, he has three grown sons. He is currently relocated to Britain. He is a former director of the Federation of British Columbia Writers.

A university drop-out from a working poor background, he worked in a factory that made school desks, drove a grocery delivery truck, was night janitor in a GM dealership, and did a short stint as an orderly in a private mental hospital. As a teenager, he served a year as a volunteer with the Company of Young Canadians.

He has made his living as a writer all of his adult life, first as a journalist in newspapers, then as a staff speechwriter to the Canadian Ministers of Justice and Environment, and, since 1979, as a freelance corporate and political speechwriter in British Columbia.

His short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s, Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Postscripts, Interzone, and a number of "Year’s Best" anthologies. Night Shade Books published his short story collection, The Gist Hunter and Other Stories, in 2005.

He has won the Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada. His novels and stories regularly make the Locus Magazine annual recommended reading list.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 160 reviews
Profile Image for seak.
429 reviews473 followers
February 28, 2012
An actuary, and one well suited to his job in every way, inadvertently summons a demon while erecting a poker table and hammering his finger. While less than amenable to the idea of selling his soul, especially with incontrovertible proof that there actually is such a thing as eternal damnation, he sets into motion a set of events that has extremely humorous consequences.

To say that the author, Matthew Hughes, can write is like saying...well... I was going to go for some sports analogy, but that just doesn't quite work, this is a fantasy book for crying out loud. Let's say it's like saying an Ogier can build a house or since he's the Jack Vance guy - it's like saying Cudgel is quick on the uptake.

He's a genius and the first third of this book definitely proves it. It's witty, clever, funny, and just plain amazingly well-written. Chesney Arnstruther, the heroic actuary, is not only an oddball, but extremely relatable. The world he's created with heaven and hell and their relationship to our world is not only understandable, but believable and simply hilarious - I would almost say along the line of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

I don't want to give away too much about the world and what makes it comical as it spoils some priceless moments, but essentially Heaven and Hell are sitting on each and every mortal's shoulder. The demons tempt, but stick to what they're told while the angels just say the opposite. Literally, all they do is say the opposite.

With the heights that the opening third of The Damned Busters reached, the final two-thirds in comparison were quite dismal. In reality, I really enjoyed the last two-thirds, they were just not nearly as good as the opening. The superhero part was really entertaining and I really wanted to see how that worked (and you'll see, it's pretty cool), but it just didn't compare and I feel bad that I couldn't get past that.

The best way to explain this book may be with ratings stars. The first third was easily 5 stars. The mid-third was more around 3 stars and the final third about 3.5 stars. Thus, you may see my conundrum when giving an actual rating to the entire book and so I settled on 4. Highly recommended if only for the first part.

4 out of 5 Stars

Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews524 followers
April 30, 2011
[Advance reader copy – the book is due out at the end of May].

I bounced hard off this one. And it’s not because I read in audio without access to the art. No, we were actually doing really good for the first quarter with the story of a hapless, nerdy (as opposed to geeky, I know my classifications thank you) actuary who accidentally summons a demon and causes a labor strike in hell. It was funny, it was whacky, it was sneakily quite sharp about good and evil, the writing was crisp.

And then the whole thing jolted sideways into stupid self-indulgent masturbatory superhero fantasies. I had a sinking feeling when the blonde bombshell appeared, flipped forward, went hell no, and backed away fast.

I could unpack why this went so suddenly toxic. I could talk about how incredibly fucking over I am these sorts of self-consciously self-mocking books about geeky sci-fi nerds who want to be superheroes, but when they get a chance to it’s not as easy as it looks and they have embarrassment squicky adventures but through accident and cleverness end up getting the keys to the city and access to the walking vagina of-the-moment anyway. I could talk about how what I find most obnoxious is the underlying narrative of power, how this white, middle-class, well-educated guy feels so oppressed and powerless and emasculated, and how he gains power by hitting some people and sticking his dick in someone. I could talk about how this feel-good redemptive underdog crap is actually a deeply toxic story that lets a bunch of privileged people feel smug and authentically downtrodden.

But I am so over this book in all of its seventeen thousand incarnations, I can’t even be fucking bothered to finish it and confirm my worst suspicions from the forward glances I took.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,920 reviews1,255 followers
May 20, 2012
I have a thing for demon-summoning.

Wait, that didn’t come out right. I don’t have a thing for demon-summoning. As in, I don’t like summoning demons. Actually, I’ve never summoned a demon, but I imagine that if I did summon a demon, I wouldn’t much enjoy it. However, I suppose that there is a small chance that if I do, one day, summon a demon, then I might discover I enjoy it and start off on some kind of demon-summoning kick or addiction. At that point, we could say I have a thing for demon-summoning.

What I mean to say is that I tend to enjoy stories about summoning demons. This is why the early seasons of Supernatural captivated me (I stayed for the later seasons because the narrative deepened and Castiel is awesome). The Damned Busters plays into this predilection of mine. From the get go, Chesney Anstruther isn’t happy about accidentally summoning a demon. When his refusal to make a deal—which would cost him his soul, naturally—with this demon leads to a labour strike in Hell, Chesney finds himself in the middle of a very awkward negotiation. But it works out OK for him in the end, because he gets superpowers! Except it turns out that being a crimefighter with a demon sidekick is tougher than one might think (though if your answer was, “it sounds pretty tough”, then I guess you’re smarter than me—or just a smartass).

The first part of this book, which follows Chesney’s incitement of the labour strike in Hell, is totally unlike the second part, which concerns Chesney’s time as the Actionary. I’ve read several reviews that wish the first part had been jettisoned and one review that actually preferred it to the superhero narrative. I have to side with the former reviewers: the first part of The Damned Busters is slow and a little dull. As I read it I was thinking that it would make a better short story than a novel—indeed, from what I gather from the afterword, it was a short story that Matthew Hughes then expanded. Hell going on strike was a good short-story-length gimmick, but after the initial laughter died down, it quickly became tedious.

So thank God (who is Hughes, in this case) for the sudden changing of gears. Chesney’s apology to Satan is part of the back-to-work deal. In return, Chesney gets a soul-preserving deal with a demon who becomes a kind of familiar to him. Thanks to the demon, Chesney has crimefighting superpowers and can rush about as the Actionary, saving damsels in distress and generally feeling like his fictional hero, the Driver. He tries to impress the daughter of the head of the company he works for, but in so doing he comes to the attention of her father and his ambitions to fight crime as a political gambit.

Unlike the first part of this book, the second part develops steadily. At first Hughes delivers some of the same metafictional, self-aware banter and observations that populate superheroic fiction these days. Chesney’s commentary on his evolution as the Actionary is pithy but nothing we haven’t seen elsewhere. Fortunately, Hughes seems to recognize this, and the stakes get higher. He keeps us guessing as Chesney begins to recognize there is something more going on with Paxton’s C group than just “meta-analysis” for the purposes of fighting crime. Indeed, Chesney isn’t the only person involved who has a deal with a demon, and that makes things all the more interesting.

At one point early in the book, as Chesney watches the Reverend Billy Lee Hardacre mediate between Satan and the leader of the demons’ union, he wonders if he is really the hero of the story after all. It seems like Hardacre is doing the important work. It’s a valid question at this point, because Chesney doesn’t seem like hero material. Indeed, he’s a bit of a pig. But as the story develops, so too does Chesney—he’s still a pig, but he’s a more heroic pig, a character more worthy of carrying a story like this on his shoulders. Someone who deserves to thwart evil plans of world domination.

Alas, Chesney’s development from zero to hero is the exception and not the rule. The Damned Busters suffers from flat characters all around. Aside from Chesney, they are all essentially types of one kind or another in their descriptions, dialogue, and actions. Both love interests, Penny Paxton and Melda McCall, are prime examples of this. Hughes plays up Penny as the conniving heiress who always gets her way—and that’s all she is. Similarly, Melda is the tough-as-nails yet mercurial beautician who can handle herself but is attracted to the Actionary nonetheless.

In both cases, there’s nothing really deeper going on here. Normally with minor characters we at least get a peek at their motivations. We learn about their relationships with their parents. Where’s Penny’s mother? What are Penny’s aspirations, if any, beyond hanging around her father’s office all the time? Does Melda have any dreams beyond the beauty parlour? We never get a glimpse at the person behind the character. This is a huge problem, compounded by the fact that as much as Chesney improves, he remains a frail protagonist who is, if sympathetic, not all that enjoyable a person to hang around.

The Damned Busters has its moments. It’s humourous, and Hughes is great at using characters as gimmicks and devices. However, the book lacks any characters who generate enough emotional resonance to make the story more than interesting diversion. It’s competent and enjoyable but could have been much better.

My reviews of To Hell & Back:
Costume Not Included

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Justin.
381 reviews126 followers
June 7, 2011
So, this was an interesting and uneven novel. I've written a lot of reviews, but this is by far the most difficult because I didn't like or dislike the novel. I almost considered not writing a review at all because I was just so ambivalent. Matthews Hughes' The Damned Busters is a wholly original novel from Angry Robot Books. It is not however the novel I wanted to read. Let me explain.

Filled with fun cartoony characters, Hughes pits Chesney Arnstruther, an actuary of no particular distinction, who accidentally summons a demon, against the hordes of the underworld. Oops. Everyone gets dropped into a bit of a pickle when he refuses to sell his soul thus sending Hell into labor negotiations from... Hell. Shenanigans ensue as the denizens of Hell go on strike. As part of the bargain that puts Hell back to work, Chesney gets the use of his own personal demon who he uses to become a crime fighter.

For the first third of the book the shenanigans are a rousing success. Satan, a few angels, a televangelist, and Chesney all find themselves locked in a room hassling over a contract for Satan's overworked minions. It's so absurd it's brilliant. There is loads of snappy dialog and hilarious situations that could only come from unionized labor. Hughes does well in the space creating a series of encounters that are often laugh out loud funny.

The unfortunate part is the brilliance only lasts for the first third of the book. Once Chesney strikes his deal with Hell the book descends into a pretty boring crime fighter yarn. There are awkward stereotypical encounters with women. He is taken advantage of by a few not-so benevolent powerful people. Not only was the novel less interesting by this point - a lot of Hughes wit seems to fall away as well. What was a light witty novel that read more like a situational comedy, de/evolved into a metaphysical discussion about the meaning of existence.

By the end of The Damned Busters I was completely caught off guard by what was a very esoteric conclusion that left me unsatisfied. Like the second half of the book, this ending wasn't what I wanted to read. I felt betrayed by the promise Hughes made in the opening chapters when he failed to deliver the same level of wit and charm throughout.

I would almost recommend Hughes' novel based solely on the opening. The idea is incredibly clever and he writes it with rare aplomb. I can't help but wonder if The Damned Busters would have been better suited as a novella that ended when Hell went back to work. If that were the case I'd be giving it my highest recommendation. As it stands, I'm not sure it's a great investment of time.
Profile Image for Joshua Unruh.
Author 23 books14 followers
July 11, 2011
This is a tough one to review. I suppose uneven is the word to start with. It's almost like two separate stories that don't have much to do with one another except that one is the circumstances by way the other is able to happen. I know, that sounds like it should be connected but it's sorta like using the story of a sperm cell fighting its way to an egg in order to set up my life story. Related, sure, but not exactly the most obvious plot move.

The first quarter of the book is the set up. It has some humorous bits, but it's mostly an excuse for the author to enjoy how clever he is. I didn't really care for this part of the story at all and spent most of the time wondering when and how we were going to get to the book they talk about on the back cover.

The rest of the book is a somewhat standard superhero story but told through the eyes of a person who is a functional autistic. He doesn't understand people, he doesn't understand social mores, and he doesn't really understand "how the world works." But he does understand comics and therefore thinks he's ready to fight crime even if it is with the assistance of Hell.

That part of the book was fun and interesting and often genuinely funny. Unfortunately, with the first quarter in front of it, I can't really recommend the book. Or if I do, it would be with the suggestion that the mileage will vary wildly on the first quarter of it. Regardless, I'm not sure I'll be reading any more of the proposed trilogy. I guess that says as much as anything.
Profile Image for Gef.
Author 7 books63 followers
June 8, 2011
Have you always dreamt of being a superhero? Sure you have. What? You haven't. Well, screw it, go with me on this anyway.

Chesney Armstruther is an actuary for a large insurance firm (if you're a layman like me, that means "statistician") whose life is in a rut. Heck, maybe his life is the rut. Rigidly devoted to numbers and the odds, while at the expense of a social life, Chesney finds poker with a few of the boys to be his best bet at gaining a few friends. But, before he can host his first game in his small, dreary apartment, he accidentally summons a demon from the pits of Hell after hitting his thumb with a hammer and uttering some nonsensical profanities. The demon insists Chesney sign over his soul in payment for summoning it, but Chesney refuses, pointing out he didn't actually summon anyone. This snafu leads to Hell's minions going on strike because of the contractual dispute, which in turn leads to Satan negotiating a settlement with Chesney in order to get things moving again. What is Chesney's end of the settlement?

Chesney Armstruther is going to become a superhero.

The absurdity of this fantastical premise was too good to pass up when I heard about it. The book, however, is not what I expected and I wound up reading what was more of a metaphysical satire than a hero satire, with a tone that came off as a bit uneven the longer it went. The book starts off strong, and Chesney's rather dry and dispassionate demeanor plays well in his protagonist role. The villains, as they were, also worked nicely, with the Devil and Chesney's unscrupulous boss either working against him or manipulating him as he tries to figure out how to be a superhero--two hours at a time each day.

As the novel progressed though, I found my affinity towards certain characters diminishing, Chesney included, or never liking them in the first place, like his love interests, Poppy Paxton and Melda McCann. The most comically endearing character was, without question to me, Chesney's endenture sidekick Xaphan, a wisecracking hellion with a penchant for rum, cigars, and 1920s gangster lingo.

Xaphan, in a lot of ways, acted as an animated deus ex machina, and several of the scenes where he helps Chesney muddle through his powers, responsibilities, and tough decisions were the best part of this book. And because of that, the divergence from a story about a wannabe superhero to a story about a pawn in a tug-of-war between Heaven and Hell was more palatable than it I thought it had any right to be.

I guess my criticism boils down to my preconceptions as a reader simply not being met. It's a good book and offers an interesting story, but it doesn't feel like the book gets to the heart of the matter until well past the halfway mark. If you enjoy a good dose of humor in your action novels, this is a pretty good book to consider, but don't trick yourself into thinking it's a superhero novel, as it only flirts with that premise long enough to go where it seems the rest of the series is headed.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
July 16, 2013
This book is pretty much just light, irreverent fun. Think along the lines of Good Omens, or something like that. Some of the ideas are fun, though since I've read Good Omens -- and some of Terry Pratchett's other work -- the style and ideas weren't entirely fresh. Still, combining that with the superhero aspect made it more fun, especially for someone who has recently got (back) into comics. I also enjoyed that the superhero character is a number-crunching actuary before he's a superhero, not as a cover for it. And he loves both jobs.

I noticed another reviewer being dubious about the involvement of female characters here. There's a certain amount of stereotyping, which is probably to some extent drawing on the traditional role of women in comics, but there is one woman who impressed me: Chesney's mother. She has a relatively small part to play, but I liked the calm way she accepted what was happening and understood herself, and faced it.

I've bought the second book, but it's definitely on the "light reading" pile.
Profile Image for Diana.
269 reviews6 followers
April 24, 2020
This book was hilarious. A socially challenged office worker accidentally summons a demon and ends up throwing hell into a strike since a deal wasn't made. As a result, they make a deal where he gets to be a superhero and he partners up with a demon who loves to drink. In the end, he ends up getting the girl. Overall, the book was hilarious and I can't wait to read the next one.
Profile Image for Kyle.
4 reviews
August 18, 2022
Wish I could log this on OkReads, AllrightReads maybe
Profile Image for Lorina Stephens.
Author 17 books63 followers
June 3, 2011
It’s hard to make me laugh. Call it a personal failing. But it’s true. While other people gasp for air in a fit of jocularity, I’m merely smiling, wondering about the depth of the humour involved. The Damned Busters: To Hell and Back, by Matthew Hughes, is the first time since reading Terry Fallis’ The Best Laid Plans, I actually burst into laughter while reading a book. The title alone was enough to pique my curiosity – an intriguing play on the 1955 British film about WWII RAF dam bombers.

Hughes’ delivery is dry, unexpected, often with a remarkable turn of phrase. At first I thought I’d be reading a more accessible variation on Rushdie’s theme in The Satanic Verses. And while there are similarities by way of the timeless opposition of the divine and profane, Hughes’ story is utterly unpretentious, and consistently, deliciously, irreverent. Because of that there were moments I was reminded of some of the famous scenes from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And then again, moments of Douglas Adams’ whacky, surreal scenarios.

Past the first few chapters my opinion changed again, so that I thought I was reading a graphic novel minus the graphics. But the writing is so tight, and the character development so strong, even original, that the stereotypes of the superhero paradigm vanished. We’re presented with a socially deficient actuary, in fact a very Canadian hero in that he doesn’t consider himself heroic, nor necessarily does he do heroic deeds. He simply wants to aid in the pursuit of justice, a justice tempered with compassion and a bumbling, admirable, loveable naiveté that lands him in an unusual deal with the Devil and a strike in Hell, while Himself Above rewrites the epic saga known to mere mortals as Life. As our hero’s slippery sidekick we’re dished up a Cagney-esque, stogey-sucking, rum-guzzling demon that breaks most archetypal standards.

In the climax of all this zany narrative one is again reminded of classic literature in a scene that easily parallels Hades’ abduction of Persephone. But in what appears to be quintessential Hughes facility, he turns that parallel into something completely unique so that we’re left with an original, satisfying denouement and conclusion.

The Damned Busters should definitely find its way to your bookshelf or eReader if you’re craving an entertaining and engaging bit of escapist literature.
Profile Image for Nathan Shumate.
Author 26 books44 followers
May 26, 2011
Humor is such an individual thing that it won’t surprise me if many people enjoyed The Damned Busters more than I did. Not that I didn’t enjoy it; I thought it was good, if not great. Don’t wanna get involved in grade inflation among book reviews, so can we say three-and-a-half stars out of five?

Chesney, an introverted actuary, accidentally summons a demon (bashed his thumb, bleeds on a five-sided table, and utters a string of nonsense syllables which unfortunately correspond to an invocation — boy, if I had a dime…). Having no use for the demon, Chesney dismisses him, which is the straw breaking the camel’s back on an ongoing labor dispute in Hell. The upshot is, to get the whole mess unraveled, Satan has to offer Chesney a “freebie” — whatever he wants, without the collateral of his soul. So Chesney decides to be… a costumed crimefighter.

What follows is largely misadventures, as Chesney discovers that (a) crimefighting isn’t as clearcut as shown in the comics (or “comix” as Hughes consistently spells it, which adds an unwanted Robert Crumb flavor to it) and (b) ethics are complicated when the powers of Hell are used to do good.

Hughes’ prose is amusing without being as precious and twee as, say, Eoin Colfer. I did feel the whole thing was uneven, possibly needing another draft for focus (that’s not counting the unresolved plot threads which leave it open for the planned sequels).

Disclaimer: Because of the unelected dweebs at the FTC who wouldn’t know the First Amendment if it wore a thong and gave them a lap dance, I must hereby announce that the media reviewed herein was received gratis from the distributor of said media with the understanding that I would comment on said media in this blog.
Profile Image for Brian Clegg.
Author 202 books2,564 followers
January 3, 2017
The Damned Busters follows in a noble tradition of humorous fantasies in which someone gets one over on the devil when entering into a pact - such stories follow on from what seems to be a very early form of fantasy story with a number of legends (usually explaining odd landmarks) using this plot line.

In Matthew Hughes' novel, comic-book obsessed Chesney Artstruther, an actuary on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. accidentally summons a demon. His refusal to accept a pact results in a strike in Hell, which leads to Satan agreeing to allow Chesney demon-powered super abilities in exchange for ending the strike.

Altogether this works reasonably well - Hughes has some clever twists on the pact with the devil riff, and keeps us engaged, even though the female characters are very old-fashioned: the overbearing mother, the girl he loves who is beautiful but shallow and the girl he will end up with who is bright and sassy. The writing style is good but sits slightly oddly with the setting - I assumed Hughes was English (he's actually Canadian) because the way it is written feels like an outsider's view of the US.

The ending is somewhat unsatisfying too, fixing a local problem but clearly leading on to further books (there's a trilogy). And compared with the greats of this genre there really isn't enough made of the limitations that come with such pacts. Chesney's assistant demon seems pretty much lacking in demonic qualities and is a nice guy really, while the open-endedness of the pact itself allows for far too much deus ex machina in the plotting. However, the underlying concepts of the rebellion in Hell and of the idea that existence is a story still being written are genuinely interesting, so it may be worth continuing to volumes 2 and 3.
Profile Image for Matt.
Author 3 books50 followers
November 29, 2015
There's something addicting about Matthew Hughes' "The Damned Busters", the first book in his 'To Hell and Back' series thats features insurance actuary Chesney Arnstruther and who, after accidentally summoning a demon and causing the legions in Hell to go on strike, becomes the novice superhero the Actionary.  At least for two hours every day, with the help of the rum-guzzling demon Xaphan. 

There's something addicting about this book even while there's something... not good about it.  

I realize how that sounds.  I've been struggling with this feeling the entire book. The story is decent and clever, with a humorous style that channels Douglas Adams without truly capturing the magic Adams seemed to effortlessly put down upon the page throughout the Hitchhiker's Guide. 

Perhaps just as Chesney is lost within the world of his comic book idol, Malc Turner aka The Driver, his adventures as the Actionary, and the events of the book from the moment he summons a demon on, are intended to emulate that comic book atmosphere with characters that are almost bland in their cartoonish, stereotype roles. 

When he smashed his finger with the hammer, did drawing blood cause him to summon a demon, or pass out and dream all of this?  Chesney does seem like someone who might faint at the sight of blood. 

Good thing "The Damned Busters" is just addictive enough and ends on a cliffhanger that I can't help but be interested in the second of the trilogy, "Costume Not Included".
Profile Image for Rusty.
Author 10 books26 followers
January 30, 2015
What an odd novel. A pulpy superhero story and a deal with the devil story.

Our hero made a five sided poker table for he and his poker buddies. He cut himself, gibbered incoherently, and a demon showed up, contract in hand, as an answer to his summons.

See? The poker table was a pentagram. The gibbering was a demonic chant. The blood was there... it was all a big misunderstanding. The rest of the story is how our hero, an actuary with a touch of autism perhaps, no social skills and a history of comic book fandom, becomes the ACTIONARY!

So, all the ladies have alliterative names, they get in trouble a lot, the Actionary rescues them. He tends to be very clever about how he deals with demons and the devil, finding a way to get what he wants without sacrificing his soul, but he can't talk to a lady without getting arrested for assault.

I liked the concept of this WAY more than the execution. The main character wasn't very likable, or interesting, to me. I didn't really care about what he wanted, and he seemed a bit spoiled to me. He also seemed to have a sort of blase attitude about meeting angels, demons, and the criminal elements of the world through the tale.

In the end, I can't say I'd want to read any more of this, but again, I really enjoyed the concept. Some folks might enjoy, but I felt it was too much effort to read.
Profile Image for Joseph Heath.
Author 2 books3 followers
September 16, 2016
A lot of this book is fantastic and right up my alley. It's one of the weirdest superhero origin stories I've ever read. It involves demons, God writing a book, and a guy hurting himself while building a poker table. The twists and turns this book takes are really fun and unexpected. The only downside to this book is that the author is not very good when it comes to women. The main character Chesney is kind of a stereotypical nice guy who can't talk around women and when he becomes the superhero, he suddenly has two women vying to be his love interest. Both of whom he has previously ogled while they were jogging. It's kind of gross and boring. And of course, one of them is uptight and rich and the other is down-to-earth and funny. Guess which one he winds up with? He also has a controlling stern mother who gets remarried in the book and her new husband basically tones her down. Which is also gross. But there's still plenty to enjoy. The actual superheroics part and how Chesney navigates his way around problems is really unique and interesting. I might check out the second part if my library has it to see if some of the more unfortunate bits get toned down, because I really enjoyed the rest of it.
Profile Image for Meagan.
Author 8 books13 followers
October 6, 2011
I wish it was possible to give something 3.5 stars.

Anyway, the best way I can think to recommend this is: If you liked Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there is a fairly good chance you'll feel the same about this one. The humor is very much in the same vain. The text is straight forward and an easy read, if not a bit lengthy.

Just to give you a bit of an idea: The whole premises is based off of this really ordinary guy who accidentally (truly) summons a demon, refuses to sell his sole, thereby causing hell to go on strike (which actually isn't good), and who then manages to wrangled a deal where he gets to use a demon's powers 2 hours a day to be a superhero and fight crime.

If that even remotely peaked your interest, you'd probably enjoy this.

I had mixed feelings throughout, though most of my feelings were good. At one point I didn't think I'd continue to read on in the series, but surprisingly enough, now that I've finished, I will keep an eye out for it in the future.

Best thing since sliced bread? No, but a fun read nonetheless.
Profile Image for Trevor S.
5 reviews
April 23, 2014
Highly, highly blasphemous (for better or worse) this is a book of great ideas and not so great execution.
Essentially a guy accidently summons a demon, puts hell on strike and makes a deal whereby he gets to become a super hero powered by a demon sidekick. It's an intriguing premise and Hughes fleshes it out with a lot of interesting concepts.
Unfortunately his characters don't fare so well. For the most part the male characters, from the hard boiled police lieutenant to the reborn (and reborn again) tv evangelist are at least interesting clichés, but the female characters (all 3 of them!) are purely one dimensional cardboard cut-outs - the hypocritically self righteous Letitia, the self-centeredly self righteous Poppy and the 'lovably' self righteous Melda.
I did enjoy the book (It's worth noting that I always sound much more negative when discussing books/films/couches than I really feel) and it's a promising start to a series, just hopefully the characters will be able carry their own weight as the series progresses.
138 reviews16 followers
March 15, 2012
If I could give 2.5 stars then it would have been more accurate.
This is a hard review as it reads like it is two short stories in series put together when they shouldn’t have been. It is an amusing read in places and as a concept a very original take on a simple set up but as with anything that relies on humour as a selling point it comes down to the readers taste and to me, much in the same way as writers like Terry Pratchet, it just did not hit the mark and unfortunately the characters are all pretty flat and don’t stand out enough in any way to keep my interest up. On a whole this was just not my cup of tea, I’m sure that there will be many that will disagree but that’s how humour tends to be. If you like things like the discworld series or hitchikers guide to the galaxy you'll most likely want to beat he up for such a review.
Profile Image for Tyrannosaurus regina.
1,018 reviews19 followers
July 3, 2012
I would like to come here and unreserved rec this one because it was fun and quick and had an interesting premise. But I can't because the female characters were uniformly awful, existing solely to be victims and love interests, and often both at the same time. The protagonist seemed to be to be somewhat unevenly characterized as well. And the climax, while interesting and with enough tension to work as a climax, still didn't quite because the poker game motif, while introduced at the beginning, was mentioned (I believe) only once throughout the rest of the book. So there were certainly parts I enjoyed, and it was a quick and well-paced read, but overall I'm left with a bit of a bad taste.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,376 reviews1,430 followers
December 25, 2013
Quirky little novel about a boy, a demon, and the delicate balance of heaven and hell on earth. The set up to the action part of the story took a bit, but I didn't want to put the book down once it picked up. Read this if you have some patience for story building.

I really enjoyed the ending and look forward to reading the next book in the series.
Profile Image for Rachel Bridgeman.
1,104 reviews25 followers
December 29, 2021
Things can go spectacularly awry when blood is unintentionally spilt-just ask Sleeping Beauty-but this demon summoning is something else altogether.

Harmless and, frankly, boring, Chesney has 2 loves in his life, comix and numbers. The one allows him to explore fantasy worlds far beyond his tiny imagination and the other deals in absolutes. Numbers are factual and work within a regulated framework, they very, very rarely go wrong. His one reckless action is a monthly poker game with his 4 friends and at this point, he does not play with anything other than pure abandonment and no formula whatsoever. As it his turn to host the game, he is keenly aware of his apartment's limitations, so sets to making a 5 sided gaming table.

And then, he hits his thumb with a nail, bleeds onto the wood and summons a toad faced demon from hell who was, at the time, pouring gold down the throats of misers.

Chesney unwittingly summoning the demon does not phase him, laying the odds of retaining his soul out on the balance of probability, he declines the demon's request to sign a contract condemning him to hell. And in so doing, his refusal means the demon goes back to hell empty handed, forms a union and the underworld goes on strike. They are fed up with their lack of representation, of being over worked and stressed from an unacceptable demon to minion ratio.

But what does this mean for our day to day existence?

Well, without that little devil on your shoulder, apathy quickly sets in.

The stock market crashes as no one can be bothered to turn up to work.

Gluttony becomes a thing of the past as no one really wants to eat.

Vanity has disappeared, plunging the fashion world into disarray.

Bad things simply stop happening. So in order to do the right thing, Chesney has to become the superhero he has spent his life reading about, and Satan (bearing a startling resemblance to Old Saint Nick) become the most unlikely duo to save the planet that you can imagine.

This is funny, poignant and thoughtful as you begin to examine the theological argument that evil should exist. The state of free will means that without having a choice on what is, or is not, morally, socially and culturally acceptable and correct, everyone will behave in a way which is acceptable. However, without there being a system of checks and balances, what actually happens when evil is wiped out, is that the concept of right and wrong is suddenly no longer valid or sustainable.

Mixing a great concept about personal and societal culpability with a bone dry wit, this book is just a fun ride through an alternative world where it turns out, the devil really does have  the best tunes!

1,101 reviews36 followers
April 18, 2023
Faustian comedy; the first part and final quarter could round up to 4 stars, but I found the middle part lagged before things quite came together.
A socially inept insurance clerk, raised by a super-religious single mom, accidentally summons a demon when he bangs his thumb assembling a table and, true to his strict upbringing, utters what he thought were nonsense syllables instead of swearing. When he refuses to make a deal or be tempted, this causes a cascade of fallout in Hell, whose workforce have strict quotas and cannot accept a 'no'. This part was funny and worked well, but it felt like there was a disconnect when it went a bit comic-booky and spent a lot of time at his job (it made sense, but the feel was quite different from the outset) before things circled back to the Faustian theme.
Overall I prefer Terry Pratchett or John Scalzi for imaginative comedy, but this was an okay read, even if the ending was a bit abrupt (likely to feed into the next volume). I'm not racing to pick up the next copy, but I wouldn't mind reading it at some point.

Content concerns: no excessive swearing (I don't remember any F-bombs, and maybe one instance of the B-word), occasional mostly mild violence but no graphic gore, no steamy scenes though there is non-graphic allusion of sex, so this is for teens and up, not for 'my ten-year-old is so advanced' readers
Profile Image for JoeK.
322 reviews3 followers
March 2, 2021
Good but not Great. This might be for a number of reasons. I know that that author has written superhero tie-in books (specifically Wolverine: Lifeblood) but for me, this is his first superhero fantasy. It had a very distinct voice and flavour that his SF/Fantasy novels don't have. The inclusion of God and the Devil as characters also skewed this into Religious territory that I wasn't expecting.

First off, I had already (unknowingly) read the short story that helped to sell this series, so I was quite a bit confused when it felt like I was re-reading a book that I was absolutely sure that I had never read before.

My main two problems were that I didn't like any of the characters, although Chesney eventually grew on me. Matthew Hughes trade-mark sense of humour was pretty much absent until Tom Hanks shows up. After that the story really takes off and becomes much more of the romp I was expecting, but still a little on the dark side.

I've already bought the other two stories in the trilogy, but I don't think I'll jump into the next one until I've read something else in order to cleanse my mental palate.
Profile Image for Pvw.
298 reviews29 followers
April 1, 2018
What was that?! Some accountant is preparing his apartment for a poker game and in doing so, accidentally summons a demon. In the following exchange with the devil, he refuses to sell his soul, which leads to a crisis in Hell. They can't afford the loss of face this whole thing causes, so they pacify the accountant by giving him superpowers when he officially apologizes. From then onwards we get some weird rescue fantasies with our accountant as a stumbeling hero who tries to set up a situation in which he saves the girl of his dreams, who will then miraculously fall for him.

I actually remember that when I was 11 years old, I also thought that was the way to go if you wanted to seduce a girl. But not long afterwards. Ensuing love scenes were childishly written, so I expected this novel to be the debut of some 20-year old virgin. Which isn't the case, by the way. But that doesn't take away the impression that this story from start to finish feels like some immature teenager fantasy.
Profile Image for Craig Williams.
431 reviews11 followers
February 9, 2023
When a geeky insurance actuary named Chesney accidentally summons a demon, he sets off a chain of events that create havoc in Hell. With Satan over a barrel, Chesney uses the opportunity to be granted powers so he can to become a superhero, which turns out to be not the cushy gig he thought it would be.

The premise is interesting enough, but I only managed to get through maybe three chapters of this book before I dropped it - hard. Reading through some of the reviews on here, I see that I made the right choice as it eventually goes into a bizarre toxic place storywise, but all I needed to call it quits was the trite comedy and terrible characterizations. I hated Chesney the moment I met him, and even more as he stumbles and fumbles to speak to a g-g-g-g-g-girl! Yikes! Meanwhile, as far as the bad comedy goes, do you think ineffectual Indian customer service call centers are funny? Well, then maybe you'll enjoy this book, but otherwise stay away, because that's about the level of comedy you'll be dealing with.
Profile Image for Stacy Kingsley.
Author 11 books10 followers
May 2, 2018
I enjoyed the hapless main character Chesney, who finds himself in a predicament that most people wouldn't know what to do about. When you accidentally summon a demon, what do you do? Chesney figures it out and keeps learning throughout. Now, while this is a great and fun book, there are some issues. I didn't care for the characters of Poppy or her father, because neither seemed to add much to the story. I did adore the Reverend Hardachre, as he was a voice of reason that seemed to be a little bit out there. The story could have used a little more plot, as it was all about writing a book. It was a little overbearing in that way, and even the end seemed a little blah. I did enjoy it though, and look forward to continuing with the next book.
Profile Image for Nathan.
33 reviews4 followers
June 23, 2019
The first 100 pages set up a lot of supernatural plot then seems to shift suddenly. But the elements do start to come together by the end of this first book, and are clearly meant to come together over the course of the series.

While some of the gender dynamics are a little rough, what I was not expecting was such a realistic portrayal of someone with autism. The main character is self-aware he is neuro-atypical, he does not limit himself or his desires. Nor do the majority of characters treat him less-than. For that especially, I give it 4-stars.
Profile Image for Gemma.
423 reviews4 followers
June 12, 2012
Originally posted on Book chick City

After two pretty lacklustre books, I was in need of a change. So to change things up, I decided to read THE DAMNED BUSTERS. From the very first chapter, I knew that I had made the right choice in picking up this book.

The plot could easily have fallen into the cliché of the hero trying to battle hell to put things right, but the author turns the idea on its head from the get go.

Due to the main characters decision that he won’t sell his soul, the demons go on strike. Thus turning the world on its head. At first a world without sin seems to be the ideal dream, but we get to see how sin is the balancing part of life. Without sin there is no pride at going to work, or lust for another person. Moderate sin is what actually gives us motivation to live. This was a thought provoking point and it did make me stop and think. How much do we really need a little bit of the seven deadly sins to live in a balanced world?

Without it the world just stops and only Chesney sees what the world is like by remembering what had happened before. Whether it’s a garden that is usually meticulously tended by its owners now empty, to the fact that public transport is non existent due to people not caring what happens and thus not going to work. Chesney and a few others are simply going through the motions of life.

So in an effort to restore this, without giving up his soul, our hero, Chesney strikes a deal to become a super hero and fight crime with the help of his own demon sidekick. There are a number of clauses which keep it all in check and you begin to see that this childhood dream is not as simple as Chesney first thought.

It was at this point I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the movie Kick-Ass. This is not a negative thing, for both deal with the issue that trying to do the right thing is not necessarily the easiest path to choose.

Obstacles are put in our hero’s way and I began to have a respect for Chesney. You can see that the odds are stacked up against him, not only by Hell but also by Heaven. He is just a pawn used by both sides or to put it in a wonderful example used in the book, God is the author of a book he is writing and we are all just characters. And by all, I mean humans, Demons and angels. If the author didn’t like how things were going, he could do re-writes.

It’s this ‘rumour’ that is destined to result in Chesney’s biggest showdown at the end. Not to give too much away, but one character that Chesney crosses paths with has their own deal with demons and as stated in the contract, Chesney’s sidekick can’t interfere in any other deals that are currently valid.

However, since Chesney’s adversary thinks that his contract won’t be valid as the ’book’ will be rewritten breaks the rules. This results in a game of poker between Chesney and the Devil. For me this scene was very reminiscent of Casino Royal and I really liked how it played out.

Overall, the plot zipped along at a decent speed and you got a feel for what life as an insurance odds analyser by day and a crime fighter by night really was.

The supporting characters to the story are interesting and each add something unique to the story.

My favourite had to be the demon sidekick, Xaphan. He is the comic relief to the story and you can’t help warming to him. I especially liked how he tricked Chesney into allowing him to have alcohol and cigars in their “go-between” room. Without this character the story would be lacking.

My least favourite character had to be Melda. Though Chesney came to her rescue a couple of times, she came across a bit whiney in the end. I never really warmed to her and was a bit perplexed when Chesney ended up with her at the end.

This is not to say that I would have wanted him to end up with the other female character, Poppy Paxton, the local tycoons daughter who Chesney saves from being kidnapped. It’s just when comparing the two, Poppy was the more interesting of the two female characters. You could tell that she was a daddies girl and she was used to getting what she wanted. I had images of her standing in the room, holding her breath, eyes closed and fingers in her ears having a tantrum. Melda, as a character just didn’t pop up in my mind at all, and for the love interest of the main protagonist, it isn’t enough for me.

As for Chesney, he was an endearing sort of guy. He has a clear sense of right and wrong, but it almost in a child like way at times. His wish to be a superhero made me smile, for I know that at times I too wished I could have been a superhero. When he is not the Actionatory, he is almost invisible to everyone. He works at an insurance firm, crunching numbers and figures in order to calculate risks. It’s also hinted that his mother has been an overbearing presence in his life. He is the underdog, and for that reason alone I ended up rooting for him. That out of all this he would succeed.

At the end of the book, it looks like his life is in some sort of order, but that those high above have more plans for our hero.


An enjoyable book with some very thought provoking themes, with an endearing lead. I’d recommend this book to anyone who liked the film, Kick-Ass, as both deal with the same theme but in very different ways.

2 reviews
August 28, 2019
It's mindless fun, and this is coming from someone who strongly disliked Ready Player One. There are a few cool references in the writing and it's not just trying to prove how nerdy the writer is with nonstop references to the 80's. It also helps that the protagonist doesn't creep on his love interest. The writing was a pleasure and not at all pretentious given the subjects. It's in the vein of a Discworld book but manages to be its own original idea.
Profile Image for Gedvondur.
192 reviews3 followers
May 10, 2020
In my lexicon, 1 star is a book to be avoided.

This is my first read of Hughes.

I couldn't finish it. The writing isn't bad, but...I don't know. It failed to grab me, the main character seems impossibly pathetic. The premise is interesting, but.....this just left me frustrated and cold.

I don't give up on books often, but I couldn't finish The Damned Busters. The writing itself is okay, but the characters, the story.....ugh. I wish I could say better about it.
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