Can a romp be melancholy? Can picaresque be deadpan? Owen Booth’s 2018 debut, What We’re Teaching Our Sons (a short-story collection masquerading as a novel, unless it was the other way around), introduced readers to the author’s facility for eliding comedy with no-frills midlife heartbreak. The splendid The All True Adventures (and Rare Education) of the Daredevil Daniel Bones goes much further, does far more, plays more tunes on more instruments, but retains Booth’s signature mournfulness underneath the transcontinental high jinks and period get-up.
Daniel Bones is set in the 1880s, but in structure and often in spirit it seems to belong to the previous century. Young Daniel Bones, shanghaied into leaving his grim edge-of-the-world Essex village to embark on a ramshackle grand tour with a roguish, double-dealing mentor, might be a Smollett hero,