Mystery Man by Colin Bateman Headline HK$234 The acid test of whether a funny novel works is whether it makes you laugh out loud. And in this case, Mystery Man: Murder, Mayhem and Damn Sexy Trousers by Belfast author Colin Bateman passed with flying colours, making this reviewer laugh not once, but twice in quick succession - the first occasion being a bit embarrassing. Having time to kill recently I decided to read the book in a public loo in Central. When I entered the cubicle there was no one else around and, hunkering down for a chapter or two, I read how the protagonist - the Mystery Man of the title - was suffering from a 'quite distressing burning sensation in [the] armpit area'. As a crime fighter, Mystery Man suspects he is being poisoned. 'Any other crime fighter thus suffering would surely have alerted national security and insisted on a radiation sweep,' Bateman writes. But the truth turns out to be more mundane. 'I examined the situation, the circumstances and the timing, and after due rumination these led me to deduce that by not immediately donning my glasses when emerging from my shower each morning, I had not in fact been spraying deodorant on to my steaming body as I thought, but Windolene.' That did it. I laughed out loud and left the cubicle to find six or seven people staring at me as if I were deranged. The second occasion was in the much safer environment of a Wan Chai bar and here is the gem that hit the spot. Referring to an elderly woman crucial to the plot, Mystery Man describes her thus: 'Her skin was pulp-magazine flaky and her white hair was long at the back and wispy on top. She looked like the old woman in Titanic, the one you wanted to push over the rails.' I don't know of a single movie-goer who didn't want to give her a shove. This is a seriously funny book. Mystery Man - we never learn his name - is an accidental crime fighter and far removed from Bateman's usual hard-nosed womanising alcoholic anti-hero, Belfast journalist Dan Starkey of Divorcing Jack (1995), Of Wee Sweetie Mice and Men (1997), Turbulent Priests (2000) and Shooting Sean (2001). Mystery Man, by contrast, has a dodgy ticker, a bad back, takes medication for depression and is an all-round coward. He runs a Belfast bookshop called No Alibis, is as politically incorrect as they come, being scathingly cynical about his young, over-sincere Greenpeace activist assistant, and stalks a beautiful girl who works in a jeweller's shop across the road. Mystery Man's life is mundane, if bizarre, until one day the private eye who works out of an office next door mysteriously disappears and his former clients start visiting the bookshop with their woes. Partly out of boredom and partly out of insanity, he takes on their troubles, starting with the innocent enough 'Case of the Missing Leather Trousers' lost at a dry-cleaner's. 'The Case of the Fruit on the Flyover' - about spray-painted insulting graffiti - is also easily solved. It all goes horribly wrong though when, teaming up with the beauty across the road, he breaks into the office next door and finds the private eye has been murdered. The resulting 'Case of the Dancing Jews' turns out to be a second world war horror tale that ensnares the pair in a kind of cartoon nightmare. Bateman's comedy thriller is an uplifting laugh-a-minute gagathon that you don't want to end. It's a shame that life isn't as surreal as Mystery Man's. The world would be a far better place if we were laughing out loud all the time.