*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: A Finalist for the 2018 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novella!
Carnegie Fitch, once-upon-a-time drifter and now half-assed private eye, has a sharp tongue, a cheap suit and dog-bite marks on his fedora. Yes, that’s just how he rolls through the downtown streets of Vancouver, BC, Canada, aka Terminal City, circa 1957, a land of neon signs, 24-hour diners and slumming socialites.
Fitch gets the case of a lifetime when he gets caught up in the death of a janitor with a checkered past as a circus performer and a stash of ill-gotten gains. And since nothing attracts the moths quite like the glow of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, he will cross paths with a series of lowlifes and nut jobs, including a gang of criminal clowns, a femme fatale with beaucoup daddy issues and an off-kilter circus elephant named Mary with a taste for human fear.
See, Fitch has always dreamed of the big score, the buried treasure, the duffel bag full of cash. Because that’s fat city, the place to be. Easy money. The good life, where the whisky flows like water and you never get a bill. But what if nothing is as it seems and chasing the dream means getting knocked silly not once but twice and ending up in a hospital bed, pissing blood after being repeatedly kidney punched by a psycho clown with no moral compass?
And what if that’s not the worst that will happen?
What if Fitch is forced to dig through his past to sort out who he is and why he is and just what the hell he wants out of this loopy thing called “life” anyway.
Well, then Fitch’d have a serious case of the Dead Clown Blues.
In Dead Clown Blues, R. Daniel Lester cleverly spruces up some classic 1950s detective noir with dry modern humour, giving a fresh new feel to a familiar genre.
Carnegie Fitch is an old-fashioned gumshoe with no money and a penchant for cheap whisky and dangerous dames. The story starts when he shares his whisky with his janitor, knocking the poor man dramatically off his wagon and setting into motion a train of events that takes Fitch to the circus and sets him among gangsters, clowns and elephants.
Fitch isn’t too great at the detective game really… he seems to spend more time drinking and bantering with suspects than actually solving anything, and misses some glaringly obvious clues as the story unfolds. However, his ineptitude is all part of the fun, along with his unplugged phone and coffee waitress crush. I was reminded a little of Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth series and Robert Rankin‘s Lazlo Woodbine character, as both of these also combine crime noir and humour, but I actually preferred Lester’s take on the genre as his plot was less chaotic and more comprehensible.
The ending neatly wrapped up Fitch’s clown case, whilst leaving the field open for him to continue blunder along in his current career or accept the somewhat snide gift of alternative employment. I’ll let you know what path he takes when I come back to share my thoughts on 40 Nickels. If it is as well-written and entertaining as this instalment then I can’t wait!
“Well, I see a man who doesn’t know what he wants, who he is or how to figure it out. One with no script of his own, so he tries desperately to live another one written by someone else. To be a private dick like the ones in the books and on the movie screen except he’s too lazy and broke to get a license. A living, breathing stereotype, drinking whisky in a Fedora and chasing waitresses like in a Dick Tracy comic book panel only the speech bubble’s empty because he has nothing to say.”
Wow, she’d let me have it with both barrels. Funny how drunk people often had the best aim. The sharpshooter scooted closer and put her head on my shoulder.
“No offense intended, Mr Fitch, really,” she said, hiccupping again.
“None taken,” I said, lying.
– R. Daniel Lester, Dead Clown Blues
Dead Clown Blues is available on Amazon right now!