cover image Boxer, Beetle

Boxer, Beetle

Ned Beauman. Bloomsbury, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-60819-680-7

This 2010 Guardian First Book Award finalist uses current day London resident Kevin "Fishy" Broom, who collects rare Nazi paraphernalia (though is "not a secret Nazi" himself) and is distinguished by an unfortunate genetic defect that leaves him smelling strongly of rotting fish, as a frame through which to contain an ebullient and thrilling narrative. The heart of the story is the unlikely connection between a beetle-obsessed entomologist, eugenicist, repressed homosexual, and fascist Philip Erskine, and "Sinner" Roach, a nine-toed, 4-ft. 11-in., sadistic, alcoholic Jewish boxer. Doing a favor for a friend, Fishy discovers a murdered man and the prize he'd hidden for years: a note from Hitler thanking Dr. Erskine for his "kind tribute." This auspicious beginning plunges the novel into East London, mid 1930s, where it largely remains, save for a few brief returns to the present involving Fishy's kidnapping by a Welsh Nazi cultist and their investigation of Erskine's past. Though Beauman bites off a lot to convincingly chew and fumbles the odd simile, his novel is irreverent, profane, and very funny. Best of all, he writes prose that, like Chabon's, has the power to startle, no small feat in a debut. (Sept.)