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Review: Tins by Alex Shearer

Tins by Alex Shearer Review: Tins by Alex Shearer

In my experience, tins and fingers don’t go well together. A few years back I found myself at the hospital after losing terribly in a battle against a tin of kidney beans. Kidney beans are good for iron levels, I hear. Bleeding all over the kitchen floor, not so much. Oh, the agony of my hand and its plaintive sobs of haemoglobin.

In tears, I called up my husband, who did his knight-in-a-shining-Ford-Laser thing and rushed home from work. Meanwhile I wrapped up my hand with paper towels galore and a veritable patchwork’s quilt worth of hand towels. I had no idea which bit of my hand was cut, precisely, but I didn’t relish the idea of peering through all that blood in order to find out.

Since it was late in the evening and the hospital is just down the road, we dashed off to emergency (which yes, does sound a touch melodramatic, but that’s the only place they’ll admit tin-mauled people clutching tea towels). And then we sat around for a long time listening to very, very ill people coughing up bits of lungs and hazing around in the depths of their ailments.

Finally, it was my turn. I went into the consultation room and offered up my tea-towel swathed hand. The doctor, very kindly, very gently, unwrapped it.

“Oh,” she said. “So where is the wound, exactly?”

Once the blood had been cleared away, I wasn’t exactly sure, either. Possibly on my little finger? That little bit of skin near the joint?

“I have overactive platelets,” I said, helpfully.

The doctor, to her credit, did not laugh at what was an obvious case of hypochondria. Perhaps she was relieved that there was nothing at all wrong with me.

“How about we put a Bandaid on it, hmm?”

I’m only thankful that she didn’t offer me one with a picture on it. I’d never have lived it down.

Anyway. If you think that’s a ridiculous (if entirely true) story, it’s nothing compared with Alex Shearer’s Tins (known as Canned in the US, since apparently “tin” is a noun that baffles kids in that area of the world). Our protagonist is Fergal Bamfield, an overwhelmingly, abundantly mediocre kid whose eccentricity is explained away by his parents as his being “clever”.

You can get away with plenty of silly or questionable behaviour (see above hospital story) if people decide to dub you “clever”. (Although I do hope that whenever it’s applied to me it’s not always in inverted commas.) In Fergal’s instance, one of these clearly divergent behaviours is collecting tins. But not just any old tins, oh no. Discounted tins. Those ones on the sale shelves in the supermarket that are bald of their labels and look as though they’ve been kicked in the guts with a baseball bat. For Fergal, each and every tin is an ugly little duckling in need of a home. An ugly little duckling that has the potential to be hacked open to reveal all manner of miraculous treasures. Such as duck pate, perhaps. Or pineapple.

Or a finger.

When Fergal opens such a tin, he’s less concerned than he is baffled. A finger certainly is a curious thing to find inside a tin. And my, what of that earring found in that other tin? Oh, and that ear, found in a tin snapped up by his “clever” friend Charlotte for her own collection? (Surely you didn’t think that tin collecting was so very esoteric that Fergal wouldn’t be able to form a community around the endeavour, did you?)

After a bit of deep thought and the subsequent finding of a “please help me!” letter in a tin, the two decide that there’s probably something slightly suspicious going on at a local cannery. The two use their sleuthing skills to determine the likely source of these peculiarly defective cans, and one night Fergal slips away to try to get to the bottom of the mystery. Only he doesn’t return, and it’s only when Charlotte receives a highly personalised letter in a can that she begins to realise what might have become of Fergal…

This is a rambunctiously ridiculous book, and if you have absolutely no issues with reading something of that sort you’ll likely enjoy it. Shearer has a page-turning prose style that sees you reading relentlessly (Terminator-style, even) until you get to the final page, and the narrative grows and builds into an immensity of silliness by its end. It’s the sort of thing you could imagine in an episode of Rocko’s Modern Life (remember that? How old am I, guys? So old.) It requires a certain gleeful suspension of disbelief, particularly where all the fortuitous communication through tin cans is involved, but for the most part it works very well indeed.

My only qualm was the way in which the transition of the third part of the book (Fergal’s disappearance) was handled. Here the drama and zaniness steps up dramatically, but the transition is terribly abrupt, with a mere scene marker delineating the gap between Fergal’s wondering about the source of the cans and his sudden disappearance. This part of the book, however, forms the key plot twist and climax, and I suspect that it’s here that readers will either find themselves enormously in love with the sheer mischief of this story, or will find themselves a bit off-side. I’m a bit on the fence, personally, and don’t quite feel that a twist of these proportions was quite set up by the (relatively) mundane events of the prior two parts of the book.

That said, the back cover copy does warn that it may contain traces of nuts…to which my response would be: only traces? If you’re after something fun and cheery (and a wee bit gruesome), give it a shot, but please take my anecdote, and this book, as a warning against the terrible dangers of the humble tin can.

Rating: star Review: Tins by Alex Shearerstar Review: Tins by Alex Shearerstar Review: Tins by Alex Shearerblankstar Review: Tins by Alex Shearerblankstar Review: Tins by Alex Shearer

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Other books by Alex Shearer:

Bootleg by Alex Shearer Review: Tins by Alex ShearerThe Cloud Hunters by Alex Shearer Review: Tins by Alex ShearerThe Great Blue Yonder by Alex Shearer Review: Tins by Alex Shearer


  1. Funnily enough, I get grief about leaving tin lids open and on the bench for the same reason… not my experience but Chris’s as a child. Apparently the sight of an open tin with razor-sharp edge gives him the heebie-jeebies. A timely anecdote…

    • Stephanie /

      Now that you mention it, I do have a horrible memory of putting my finger inside a Coke can as a kid. Sharp edge there… :S


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