A nine-toed gay Jewish boxer, Nazism and a character that constantly smells of fish you say? I’m already there.
Boxer Beetle is a pretty stunning debut by Ned Beauman. It essentially consists of two parallel narratives, one set in modern day and written in first person perspective following the character of Fishy, and the other in the third person set in the 1930’s with the aforementioned gay Jewish boxer named Sinner.
Fishy is a Nazi memorabilia enthusiast but strangely not a neo-Nazi himself, nor is he in any way the kind of character one would associate with totalitarianism. For an unspecified reason the bloke is just fascinated with any artifacts from the period and obsessively collects anything he can find. He spends a great deal of his time on online forums and has mounds of cluttered possessions he is not proud of owning, indicating that whether it was to be Nazi, Marvel or Abba collectables, Fishy was predestined to be obsessed with something or other. The fact that he suffers from a little-known condition called trimethylaminuria which makes him give out a pungent, fishy aroma only deepens the reader’s pitying affection for him. The man is simply a tragic geek with more experience on eBay than in the real world (then again reality is horrific, so who can blame him).
Without wishing to give too much of the plot away, Fishy often runs errands for another Nazi-enthusiast, a wealthy property developer named Grublock, who one day asks him to check up on a private investigator of his. Fishy finds the investigator dead and also discovers in the corpse’s possession a hand-written thank you letter from Hitler to an Englishman named Doctor Erskine, a eugenics specialist. The novel then bounces forward and backward in time as Fishy’s investigation into the origins of the letter deepens, bringing about interesting discoveries and also a serious amount of present day dangers.
Sinner, the main character in the parts of the story set in the past, could not be more different from Fishy. He is confident, brash, manly and a tad stupid in the more academic areas where his modern day ally is not. Fishy provides the undercurrent for the entire narrative and ensures certain questions are answered, whereas Sinner is a mere witness to it, stumbling upon things he doesn’t know or care about. Sinner also provides bouts of sex, violence and depressing surges of alcoholism.
I cannot express enough how interesting, exciting and ultimately hilarious this book is. Although Beauman does write in an often overconfident, cocky way (he uses his own name for a character for god’s sake) you have to love his story-telling. The novel can be gruesome, upsetting, funny and intelligent, but most importantly the little details laid out throughout the novel are brought together brilliantly in an extremely satisfying ending.
I can understand how this novel isn’t for everyone as I think you have to be prepared to be fascinated in the character’s fascinations and enjoy the unique format of the mystery in order to get something out of it, but luckily for me this original, riveting and often intense debut was something I could really get my teeth into. I’ll definitely be looking out for Beauman’s follow-up with anticipation.