PUNCHBAG by Robert Llewellyn (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 9.99)
Let's get one thing straight. As far as I'm concerned, Red Dwarf is one of the most overrated TV shows of the past decade. BBC2's cult (does that mean no one watches it?) sci-fi sitcom is the last word in geekiness, the first word in cheap special effects, a lesson in nativity play-standard acting, and a masterclass in the sort of humour only a very lonely 13-year-old boy would find amusing.
So a novel by actor Robert Llewellyn, who plays rubber-faced robot Kryten in the godawful series, had me hiding behind my 1979 Blake's Seven annual. Hopes weren't high.
It's a surprise then, to find that Punchbag, Llewellyn's second novel, is the most original, thought-provoking book I've read in ages.
A black comedy about rape, violence and men's attitudes to women, Punchbag might not sound like a winning formula, but it's handled with great sensitivity by a writer who knows exactly when to tickle the funny bone and when to ask some serious questions.
Nick Gardener is an unexceptional '90s man. Mid-thirties, with a teenage son from a previous relationship, a messy North London flat, a casual girlfriend in the shape of a pole dancer in America, and a dead end job as a nightclub bouncer, Nick is going nowhere fast. Apart from an impressive set of biceps, he hasn't got much to write home about.
Then he's spotted by Tara, a beautiful Californian woman who wants him to join her in San Francisco to take part in a women's self-defence class called Winning Strategy. It sounds like a breeze, plus he'll get to spend some time with Tiffany the stripper who might just indulge his weirdest sexual fantasies. …