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W.G. Grace's Last Case or The War of the Worlds Part 2 by William Rushton (1985)

W.G. Grace's Last Case or The War of the Worlds Part 2 by William Rushton

I must confess that my instinct was to dislike this novel at first sight. Despite my English origins, Cricket is not my cup of tea, and any novel that weaves The War of the Worlds into the life of a famous Cricketer sounds like a match made in hell, but it has to be said that W.G. Grace's Last Case (subtitled The War of the Worlds Part 2) is actually a surprisingly good read. The actual elements of the story concerned with The War of the Worlds are very low key and it is only in the last few chapters that they take centre stage, but this works to the advantage of the novel. There is a real delight to be had from stumbling on delightful little throwaway references to the war and its aftermath, for this is a sequel of sorts, set in the years following the invasion and in a world still getting back on it's feet after the death and carnage. Surprisingly, it is also very funny.

W.G. Grace's Last Case also occupies a special genre in humorous literature, as it is a work of wit as opposed to laugh our loud hilarity, and that's an important distinction to make. Wit is generally defined as the act of finding humour in a clever play on words, and author William "Willie" Rushton was certainly a quintessentially English master of wit. If I were to offer a modern equivalent, I would have to say his natural successor would be someone like Stephen Fry, which may still leave a good many readers of this review outside of the UK none the wiser. Rushton was famous in the UK for his appearances on a number of satirical television and radio shows; he appeared on the radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue for 22 years! I certainly remember Rushton from his work on children's productions, to which his distinctive voice with its gentle inflections was ideally suited. He was also a huge cricket fan, though I'm not sure what made him think to combine his love for the game with The War of the Worlds.

Dr William Gilbert ("WG") Grace was (and will probably always remain) the most famous Cricketer in history. To make another comparison for those readers unsure of his stature, think Joe Dimaggio and you won't be far off. As the story opens, an extremely improbable Apache arrow rudely interrupts play and sets Grace on a race around the world to discover what a nefarious pair of brothers called the Villibarts have been planning. He is joined, assisted and hampered along the way by a fantastic cast of real and fictional characters, such as Doctor Watson, Mr Hyde and Oscar Wilde. Rushton is extremely adept at working dozens of bizarre characters into the narrative, and despite the underlying silliness of the writing, succeeds at the same time in creating a considerable mystery. That's a pretty good balancing act! Rushton also provides the illustrations and proves himself a capable cartoonist - which should be no surprise as also did a lot of illustration work in his career. I was really expecting to find this a book only a Cricketer could love, but it actually proved extremely accessible, and though the humour will not be to everyone's taste, it turns out that this is an extremely entertaining addition to the ever-adaptable history of The War of the Worlds.


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See also


The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

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Sherlock Holmes The War of the Worlds by Manly & Wade Wellman.

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