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Squaring the Circle of Comedy Thrillers

In our latest blog, the publisher, Katie Isbester, writes on Poor Table Manners by Steve Sheppard and the difficulty of mixing genres.



Mixing is messy. People won’t thank you for a Frankenstein of a novel. A non-fiction with dragons. A time travel with a cookbook. A romance with a murder mystery. I don’t even know what you’d call that. RomMur? Mystance? Instinctively I go “yuck”. I don’t want to confuse losing a life and losing a heart.


Nonetheless some combos can hit that sweet spot. It rarely happens, but when it does, there is a sigh of admiration and appreciation, and a mental thank you to the gods for the gift of it.


One such combo is comedy thrillers. Or adventure comedies. It’s hard to say which is the more weighted noun and which is the lighter adjective. It’s a marriage of page-turning with laughter. Once a staple of publishing, comedy thrillers are so tricky to pull off that they have almost vanished from publishing, mushrooming up in movies and TV shows. Deadpool. The first season of The Tourist (Netflix). Austin Powers. They range from hilarious silliness to more dramatic action but the fusion of comedy and thrills is on the same spectrum.


Here's why they are so tough an act to pull off: comedy thrillers have to square a circle.


Comedies pause for the laugh. Thrillers never stop. Jokes have to makes sense or they don’t work. Thrillers can have holes large enough to drive a lorry through because they’re about thrills, not about making sense. Comedies prioritise jokes over plotting. Thrillers prioritise plotting over everything else. Comedies will take a joke of any size shape and form, even dad jokes. Thrillers need every single joke to pack a punch so they are few in number.


Get it right however and you ricochet from a heart-pounding high-stakes adventure to the release of a laugh.


Poor Table Manners by Steve Sheppard is the brilliant combination of political skulduggery and pure comedy. It sees the return of our hapless hero, Dawson, and his lady love, the incomparably competent Lucy as they once again take on bad guys. And being Dawson, he also takes on dassies, a helicopter and a set of twins.


As usual, Dawson and Lucy are in exotic locales, this time Cape Town in South Africa, making friends with the local police (cough, cough), sampling wine at a local vintage (very tasty even if they were there under duress) and “participating” in the election.


It’s a romp and a race that hits the sweet spot.


Poor Table Manners is out 17th April and is available for pre-order now.

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