Friday, 29 October 2021

COUSIN CALLS by Zeb Haradon @zebharadon

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read two other books (The Usurper King and The Last Feast) by this author and loved them, so leapt straight on this when I saw that it was out.

In a Nutshell: A novel made up of five stories, all linked - scifi, humour, and some general weirdness that kind of makes sense.

I'll start by saying that this is one of the best books I've read in years.  Zeb Haradon is an outstanding writer; Cousin Calls is five stories linked together, and each one pulls you in and makes you forget that it's part of a larger novel, that you didn't intend to lie on the sofa reading for this long, that it's one in the morning and you really need to get some sleep, etc.  It's just - terrific.

The book is set several decades into the future, in which Harold walks into a bar that used to be a coffin shop one Christmas Eve, following a request from a cousin he has never met, to meet him there.  The bar is almost empty, aside from a couple of drinkers and the bartender.  After telling the bartender why he's there, he is warned about the dire consequences that can befall one after a conversation that begins, 'You don't know me, but we're cousins'.  (This amused me because my sister has recently been exchanging emails with a cousin of ours whom we have never met; I'd never heard of him before.  Take care, Julia...)

An old woman was smoking outside when Harold arrived; she enters the bar, and is invited to tell her 'cousin story', about her invitation to a Texan chili cook-out.  The chili is, she learns, the best in the world due to its secret ingredient.  She attends, along with her ghastly snowflake would-be poet boyfriend ('look, I told you I was an INFJ when you started dating me!'), a beautifully drawn amalgam of every similar example you've ever seen on Twitter.

Next comes Ward, with his job, money and flat worries and a hippocampal implant that will enable him to absorb material learned by others and downloaded online, from their own implants. Alas, he doesn't realise what else he will absorb from these generous donors' minds.  It's hilarious and very clever (and possibly my favourite of the five), but for some reason this is the quote I've highlighted:

'I spent about forty minutes just staring at the spider, envying it.  Imagine - no rent to pay because you literally pull your house out of your ass.'

Then there's Gordon the private detective who takes on a case so disgusting that - well, you'll have to read it.  And even the deer's head on the wall - he is called Alex - has his own cousin story to tell.  That's a good one, involving his slight obsession with the Addams Family and some interesting cervine philosophy.  Last of all we come to Jane, who wasn't able to make it for the Christmas get-together this year; her story is in her journal.  She's the woman who meets this really hot guy and has the best sex of her life, so good that she's able to overlook the fact that he has some rather unattractive pastimes (including genocide and the murdering of small animals), but the deal-breaker is who he supports in the upcoming election - most pertinent in these social media-obsessed days when the expression of one's political views can guarantee banishment to the virtual leper colony.  

Jane's problems involve her mother, trying to earn money during the 2020 Covid pandemic, and her badly behaved son.  Love this: 

     'He definitely has ADHD.' the guy {psychiatrist} said, 'but I'm also going to diagnose him with oppositional defiant disorder.... it's an impulse control disorder.  Chase has a pattern of oppositional and defiant behaviour.'
     'Yes,' I said, 'did you happen to notice that he's nine years old?'
     'It's very fortunate that we caught him this early'

Mr Haradon has a unique style that you need to read for yourself to understand why I'm raving about this book.  It's impossible to categorise, too; yes, it's scifi, yes, it's funny, with the best sort of observational humour, but it's also comment on human nature and modern life, though I get the feeling that Mr H doesn't think about much of this stuff, and just writes.  It's quite horrific in parts - if you're easily offended or disgusted, it won't be for you, though the revolting aspects are oddly inoffensive, somehow.  Probably because the writing itself is just so, so good.  I loved the ending, too.  Wasn't expecting that at all.  I already want to read it from the beginning again, and envy you, dear reader, because you have it yet to enjoy.

Oh, just buy it.  It's great, and I can't do it justice.


  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Terry. I loved 'The Last Feast' and must try to read more of his Haradon's work. He is fantastic!

  2. Love it when someone takes up a recommendation and it works out, Olga! If you liked TLF, you're going to adore this :)

  3. This has got to be the most interesting and compelling review I've read all year. Gotta read it!

  4. Not reading much at the moment - but this was too tempting a review ( trusting your judgement as always, Terry).