Daniel O Thunder is a book I discovered on display in the new releases at the public library. I was initially attracted to the cover of the book, the one with the devil head. There is an alternate book cover, which is probably a UK edition but I’m not sure, that is pink and appears to have a picture of an English gent walking with a cane, like the Lord Sculthorpe character in the book, and I don’t think I would have been as attracted to the book had it been the edition at the library. But it wasn’t just the devil’s head art that sucked me in, to be perfectly clear, the name Daniel O Thunder has a certain super hero quality to it and I had to see just what it was all about.
The plot synopsis describes the novel as being set in the slums of 1851 Dickensian London. O Thunder is a prizefighter with a devastatingly powerful right hook called The Hammer Of Heaven. His religion is to protect the poor, weak, and misguided from the ruin of reckless abandon that he tends to attribute to the presence of the Devil, and when made present, Daniel flies into action to cleanse the afflicted of the unholy spirit in a physical way. You get the idea that O Thunder is directly attacking the Devil every time this happens since it is typically accompanied by a great, rousing, holy speech that asks onlookers to forgive the offender and put the blame on the Devil. I also got the impression, that every time Daniel goes into one of these impromptu sermons, he speaks as loud as possible believing The Devil to be somewhere in the room with him, he is challenging the Devil to a fight and eventually becomes so driven by his desire to fight the Devil that he issues a public statement in a popular sports paper.
Since the story is told in a first person narrative of over six different characters, I found myself passing through numerous shades of emotion and always changing opinion of almost every aspect of the tale, an admirable skill of Ian Weir, that lends a common thread of deceit to a uniquely individual cast of characters.
The five main storytellers in the story are as follows:
DANIEL O THUNDER a Jesus-like pugilist with a heart of gold who has a natural ability to knock the devil out of anyone who becomes murderously lustful, which is quite frequent, considering he spends most of his time with vagrants and whores since he runs a mission above an alehouse. He also has a God-like finishing punch called The Hammer Of Heaven.
JACK HARTWRIGHT is a playwright with a shady past who becomes infatuated with a girl named Nell who is a whore at a whorehouse. Jack becomes a disciple of Daniel O Thunder and joins his mission.
NELL ROONEY is a foul-mouthed whore desperate to discover the whereabouts of her mother who also becomes a disciple of Daniel.
JAUNTY RENNERT is Daniel’s trainer, agent, and former military superior. He’s a Don King-type weasel who makes his living placing bets and owing debts.
PIPER WILLIAMS is a journalist who falls into company with Daniel O Thunder after Daniel threatens to beat him up over a slanderous article in the newspaper. The fights are recounted through Piper who, realizing the uniqueness and attraction of O Thunder, becomes a semi-disciple, but mainly for the sake of writing articles about him since he gets paid by the word.
The story also features a handful of unforgettable secondary characters that keep the pace rich and flowing, the most important being LORD SCULPTHORPE, a rather devilish, old, rich gentleman who likes to gamble, that seems to pop up just in time to deliver dark atmosphere to the story whenever needed, as if he’s always just hiding in the crowd watching the story unfold. He takes up a creepy interest in Nell, claiming to have known her mother. The way the story is told, you get the feeling that this man is the Devil every time he pops up.
I also enjoyed TIM DIGGORY, the funny talking bouncer with the eyeball that bulges out and wanders when he’s ready to pound someone. And the colorful assortment of boxers with incredible names like THE GARDENER, SPRAG THE RUFFIAN, and HEN GULLY with his trainer BOSTON BOB give the book that super hero quality that keeps the reader always wanting more.
The first person narrative kind of tricks you into reading a mystery novel, since you are always wondering what happened to Nell’s mother, who is Lord Sculthorpe, Will Daniel actually fight the Devil, and who’s behind the Jack The Ripper style murders that are taking place all over town.
Lisa and I ended up buying this book after reaching PART II, I was reading it out loud to her and we both really liked it when the library informed me that it was due back. I was also reading about four other books at the time to her on different nights but this was the only one I felt was worthy of owning and, since I’ve read the whole thing, am proud to have it on display with my other favorite books in the front room. Although Ian Weir has an impressive resume as an award winning screenwriter and playwright, including stories he’s done for radio and books he’s written for children, this is his first adult novel. Had Ian weir written books before this one I would have sought them out and, therefore, anticipate hopes that he might find time to write more novels.
For the most part, I have to agree with my counterpart, Professor Blaqart, about the book Daniel O’ Thunder. I mean, the title alone invokes superheroes, super villains and super exciting battles between good and evil. I also was drawn to the cover emblazoned with the face of a red devil, but it was the blurb on the back the sucked me in…a self professed anglophile, the described Dickensian London setting was a must read. As it turns out, Daniel O’ Thunder by Ian Weir, is not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday.
Daniel O Thunder is the hammer of heaven wielding boxer who takes on the very devil himself for the sake of humanity. He is certain it is his destiny to destroy the evil that moves among the slums of London. In the course of the novel, Daniel becomes something of a superhero with a strong following of disciples who watch him box, listen to his impromptu sermons, and witness the random acts of miracles he performs. I guess he’s more like a Jesus figure, but I keep picturing a broken nosed, bare-chested guy wearing a cape, rather than a longhaired, bare-chested guy wearing sandals. Go figure.
The novel has several characters into whose head we hop. Blaqart has already listed them in the above review, so I’ll spare you that at least. Never fear, the number of characters we are introduced to didn’t put me off, and most importantly didn’t give away too much of the story’s surprise ending. There are murders going down in the Jack the Ripper style that impacts many of the characters moving through Daniel’s life. What I enjoyed was the author’s slow reveal of important facts that truly make the reader change their mind about a couple of the important characters in the book. I quite enjoyed Nell, who gets herself into some trouble whilst looking for her long lost mother and Jack, the playwright with an interesting past that made this gal squirm. No one is who he or she seems to be and nothing is quite what we think it should be.
I also enjoyed the narrative of the devil and wished we could have more of the italicized story of old Scratch himself. I thought his tone of voice was hilarious. And it was his entries that kept me interested in the story as the first half of the story moves a bit slow (it didn’t hurt that Blaqart read the first part of the story to me sans shirt either) but after the second half gets moving, the story hums along at a break neck speed that held my attention.
For the most part, Daniel O’ Thunder is a fun, gritty read complete with boxing scenes that could be seen as violent church services. The characters are engaging and the mystery is successfully kept under wraps until the author reveals all. I truly didn’t guess where or who the devil was until almost the end, which is a major plus in my book. The atmosphere was great and I enjoyed ‘hearing’ the many different English vernaculars sprinkled throughout the story. I would definitely check out more from the author when and if he decides to write another novel.