Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Comedy
Read Again? Yes!
Young Cornelius Murphy is the Stuff of Epics. Destined for Greatness. No one is more aware of this than he.
Actually, he seems to be the only one aware of this fact: the world doesn't care.
There's a Mr. Yarrow (the youth Employment Officer) at his school who is desperate to see the young Murphy gainfully employed before his final school year is done. He's tried and failed seven times to get the wretched boy into a job.
Mechanic? "Too delicate."
Minicab Driver? "Too well-spoken."
Monumental Mason? "Too tall."
Marriage Counselor? "Too sophisticated."
Male Model? "Too rugged."
He tries again. Mime Artiste.
Nope. "Too well-endowed."
Cornelius does finally get a job, but not via Mr. Yarrow. One Arthur Kobold hires him to travel into the wilds of Scotland to find and purchase the effects of the heroic and mystical Hugo Artemis Solon Saturnicus Reginald Arthur Rune, master of the unpaid bill, guru of gurus, reinventor of the ocarina, hater of Bud Abbott.
Among these effects is a manuscript for Rune's greatest work, The Book of Ultimate Truths. Kobold wants to reprint the magnificent opus.
Cornelius travels into the vast reaches of untamed Scotland, finding himself pursued by a Campbell, who is also after the manuscript.
The simple "go to the auction, win the bid for some old junk no one wants, and bring it back" isn't as simple and uneventful as Cornelius expected it to be. He faces an enormous riot, a shootout in a monastery, and a bunch of naked Wiccans ("It's a genuine religion, you know.").
As he travels, Cornelius reads a copy of The Book, learning of the perils of C11 H17 NO3 (mescaline) in soaps, tea, and cola (Rune ran a profitable soap, tea, and cola concession off this fearmongering); the secret lives of Biro ballpoint pens (and why they vanish when you need one); and the truth of why there's always two screws left over when you reassemble a toaster or radio, and how this delayed the scheduled beginning of World War Two by three years (Rune learned this secret in India, acting as Gandhi's spiritual advisor).
Rankin's writing is rich, engaging and wickedly funny. There's no drag, aside from a mincing Gandhi in disguise as Rune's wife. Hell of a ride.