The Last Coin: Read this if you love Fawlty Towers

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Last Coin by James P. Blaylock fantasy book reviewsThe Last Coin by James P. Blaylock

Andrew and Rose Vanbergen have recently purchased a California inn which they are fixing up and getting ready for guests. They live in the inn along with aging Aunt Naomi, her numerous cats, and her companion, Mrs. Gummage. The Vanbergens have only one real guest so far — the mysterious Pepto-drinking Mr. Pennyman.

Andrew has grand plans for the inn. Unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a slacker and he’s always managing to find excuses for doing anything but the actual work that needs to get done. While his good-natured and industrious wife is cleaning or sewing linens, he’s daydreaming about a gourmet kitchen and purchasing luxury items that aren’t really necessary. (He fancies himself an epicure).

Andrew also tends to have crazy ideas that sometimes border on delusional. Sometimes he acts on these. He knows he’s being silly and that it upsets his wife, so he’s in the habit of being secretive and lying to hide his ridiculous notions and activities. This often gets him in trouble because he ends up lying to cover up his lies. Oh, what a tangled web he weaves! It doesn’t help that his new friend, Pickett, tends to see conspiracies everywhere. When Andrew and Pickett notice Mr. Pennyman’s strange behavior, they decide that Pennyman has some dastardly plan and, in their bumbling way, they start to investigate.

But the truth is even stranger and scarier than Andrew suspects! Mr. Pennyman is at the inn because he’s trying to find the last of Judas Iscariot’s cursed pieces of silver and he knows the last few coins are somewhere on that California coast. If he finds them, the entire Earth is doomed! Inadvertently saving the world will require a series of hilarious misadventures involving a spoon, a carp, smuggled breakfast cereal, a pot of jambalaya, a fake advice column, prank letters, a car chase, several murders, a treasure hunt on the beach, a dangerous Chinese restaurant, and a huge cast of strangely behaving animals.

I loved The Last Coin. More than anything, it reminded me of my favorite British comedy, Fawlty Towers. Andrew is Basil Fawlty, the innkeeper who’s played by John Cleese. If you’ve seen that hilarious show, you know that Mr. Fawlty, who thinks he’s more sophisticated than he really is, just can’t help but hate most of his guests. He’s also nosy, eavesdropping and sneaking around and spying on his guests. He lies to his wife about silly things so she won’t know what he’s up to. Andrew Vanbergen is exactly like that, without the British accent. Some readers will despise Andrew, and I have to admit that he’s a bit overdone in parts (especially in the middle of the book, which drags a bit), but anyone who loves Basil Fawlty is sure to enjoy The Last Coin just for the characters and humor. Add in the cool premise of Judas Iscariot’s cursed silver coins and Blaylock’s delightful prose and you’ve got an extremely entertaining story that’s bizarre, amusing, clever, exciting, and unpredictable.

Christopher Ragland’s narration of Audible’s version was excellent. His voice and tone are perfect and he gets the humor exactly right. I highly recommend The Last Coin on audio. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.

Note: The Last Coin is the first of Blaylock’s books about Christian holy relics, but each book stands alone.

Holy Relics — (1988-2008) Each novel can stand alone. The Last Coin: Two thousand years after silver coins pass from the hands of Judas Iscariot, they continue to hold magical powers, changing the luck of those who posses them, and possibly even providing immortality. The Paper Grail: Curator Howard Barton goes to Mendocino, California, to get a 19th-century woodcut sketch for his museum back home. But other, rather strange, people want the sketch for their own dubious purposes. Now Howard’s caught in the middle of a secret war that somehow involves a piece of paper that is much more than it seems. All the Bells on Earth: This is a homey fantasy, almost excessively so. Doughnuts, family tensions, relatives who arrive in a Winnebago, Christmas decorations, business worries, Uncle Henry’s womanizing, and pyramid schemes wrap Walt Stebbins in layers of detail and distraction. Walt runs a small catalog business out of his garage, and he has no notion of a demonic presence in his town until a package is mistakenly delivered to him. The contents are not the inexpensive Chinese toys and novelties he deals in. The nasty-looking pickled bluebird of happiness (“Best thing come to you. Speak any wish.”) piques Walt’s interest, and he keeps it when he rewraps the box and passes it on to the addressee: the one person in the world Walt loathes, his former friend Robert Argyle. But Walt’s keeping back the bluebird of happiness is the best thing that could have happened to Argyle — and the worst thing that could happen to Walt. What price happiness? If you have to ask … Knights of the Cornerstone: Calvin Bryson has hidden himself away from the world, losing himself in his work and his collection of rare and quirky books. He never meant to let so much time go by without visiting his aunt and uncle in the tiny town of New Cyprus, California. When he gets there, he’ll discover the town’s strange secrets and a mysterious group dedicated to preserving and protecting holy relics – a modernday incarnation of the legendary Knights Templar.

James P. Blaylock 1. The Last Coin, 2. The Paper Grail, 3. All The Bells On EarthJames P. Blaylock 1. The Last Coin, 2. The Paper Grail, 3. All The Bells On EarthJames P. Blaylock 1. The Last Coin, 2. The Paper Grail, 3. All The Bells On Earthfantasy and science fiction book reviews


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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4 comments

  1. April /

    I read this a long time ago and I remember not understanding why people thought it was so funny because it depressed me. Hm. Maybe I got it mixed up with another of his books. I loved Fawlty Towers.

    • April, this is probably the book you read. I can understand why some people wouldn’t like it. The protagonist is not likable. Of course, you wouldn’t like Basil Fawlty if you knew him in real life either. Maybe if you tried it again and consciously thought of Basil Fawlty, you’d suddenly think it was funny.

  2. apple and peanut butter

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