While Anansi Boys seems to be set in the same universe as Gaiman’s previous adult novel, American Gods, it is a different sort of story, closer in tone to his earlier Neverwhere, and somewhat like Good Omens, the book he co-authored with Terry Pratchett.
Like Neverwhere, Anansi Boys has a protagonist who is taken well out of his comfort zone by events and people over which he really has no control. Charles “Fat Charlie” Nancy isn’t actually fat, but everyone calls him that any way. His father gave him that name during the brief period as a boy when he was fat, and when his father named something, the name tended to stick. Charlie lives in London, works at the Grahame Coats Agency as an accountant, and is due to be married soon, a fact that doesn’t actually seem to excite either him or his fiancée.
The story begins with two funerals. Fat Charlie’s mother dies while on a cruise in the Caribbean and then his father, who deserted them years ago, dies in a bar in Florida while flirting with women there.
It would have been plural, Charlie thought. His father had never done anything in moderation. All his life, as much as he could recall, his father had been a source of embarrassment to him, from the name to the pranks and his general flamboyance.
It is while attending his father’s funeral that Charlie learns several things about his father. First, and he can hardly believe this, is that his father was an incarnation of Anansi, the West African Spider God. Anansi is a trickster, like coyote, like raven or like Br’er Rabbit in the Uncle Remus stories.
So why doesn’t Charlie have any magical powers? Well, it seems they all went to his twin brother. What brother? Charlie wants to know. How do I get to meet him?
Talk to a spider, says old Mrs. Higgler. And one night, when he has had too much to drink, that’s what Charlie does. The next day his brother, who is called Spider, appears at his door, moves in with him, promptly remodels Charlie’s spare bedroom into a much larger, quite palatial flat, and takes over much of Charlie’s life.
Spider discovers that Grahame Coats is a financial swindler, of the type that has become notorious in the five years since this book first appeared in hardcover, and uses this knowledge to save Charlie’s job, or so he thinks, when Coats is about to fire him. What he doesn’t count on is Coats shifting all the evidence of his crimes so that it points to Charlie.
Spider also meets Charlie’s fiancée, Rosie Noah, and, as Charlie, heats up that relationship in a way that Charlie never has.
Charlie is soon suspect #1 in a Bernie Madoff style ponsie scheme, though he doesn’t know this. What he does know is that he has to get Spider out of his life. The other thing he doesn’t know is that the mystical incantation he uses to accomplish this will unleash two of his father’s ancient enemies: Tiger, who has always hated Anansi for stealing his stories in the beginning of time, and Bird Woman, who is a consummate hunter.
The other thing that neither Spider nor Charlie have ever known is that they are two halves of a single person, separated at birth into good and bad versions of himself. This is why Charlie can’t help being boringly mundane and Spider can’t help causing problems. To survive, they have to learn to cooperate and become a bit more like each other. Spider has to use his powers to bust Charlie out of prison and Charlie has to learn to use the power of song that he didn’t know he had to overcome Tiger and Bird Woman.
I haven’t even begun to touch on what happened to Rosie and her mother when they went to the Caribbean in search of Spider, or how police officer Daisy Day found herself assigned to track down the man she had spent a lovely evening with and what became of that. Likewise I haven’t said what became of the evil Grahame Coats who planned to frame Charlie and actually did murder the wife of one of his defrauded clients.
Anansi Boys is a tall tale and a funny book but Gaiman himself has probably given the best description of it. In an interview with Three Monkeys Online (http://www.threemonkeysonline.com/als/_neil_gaiman_anansi_boys_interview.html) he said it was about people .
“Anansi Boys is spiced with horror, and it has humour in it, and it has myths and detectives, and balls to the wall horror and thriller stuff and so on, but that's not what it is. What it is is a book about people, but I get to do all these other things."