Boxer, Beetle

Ned Beauman's first novel, Boxer, Beetle, is not for everyone. The young British author and critic has created a funny, literate romp that jumps between the Internet-centric London of today and the dark days of Hitler's Europe in the late 1930s. Along the way he gives us a classic country manor murder-mystery, a lesson in the science of eugenics, a smattering of repressed homoeroticism and side trips into strange spiritual cults, boxing, Batman and atonal music. On the other hand, maybe it is for everyone.

Kevin "Fishy" Broom is a Nazi memorabilia collector who mostly inhabits Internet chat rooms and auctions because he suffers from a rare disease that makes him smell like rotting fish. While researching an artifact for a subsequently murdered wealthy collector, Fishy stumbles on the mystery of a previously unknown 1936 Hitler letter to Philip Erskine, a British upper-class entomologist who discovered a beetle with wings colored like a swastika. Dr. Erskine, a closet homosexual, had become infatuated with a five-foot-tall, nine-toed, alcoholic Jewish boxer named Seth "Sinner" Roach--as unusual a specimen for study as his beetle. Could he learn enough from his beetle and boxer to create a superhuman race?

Beauman crams his short novel with so many digressions and unpleasant characters that many of us might just toss it aside in frustration were it not for his striking language and amusing philosophical observations. He is not afraid to cross genres or epochs in this inventive and exhilarating ride that is a good deal more than "skim-reading Wikipedia." –-Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kans.

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