Read: July 22, 2019
This is a collection of three novellas featuring Farrer’s character of Cullen in and around a city near the Scottish border — Dirty Barry, Bronchial Billy and Pale Ale Rider. As you can probably guess from the plays on Eastwood film titles, we’re supposed to be thinking of an Eastwood-hero type, wandering into the midst of someone else’s (or several someone elses) life and setting things right, stopping a crime, etc. Also, from the play in the titles, they’re of a lighter tone — they’re described as comic, I didn’t particularly find them that, but they are clearly written for the fun side of Crime Fiction, not the serious, dark, or brooding side.
Dirty Barry tells the story of the world’s sleaziest dentist. For sport, he has affairs/one night stands/flings with as many married patients as he can — blackmailing them to continue as he sees fit. Until one day, Cullen walks in with some tooth pain. We meet Big Paul here (more on him later), and three other characters who more than make up for the sleaze brought in by Barry.
Bronchial Billy is about a boorish octagenarian would-be-slumlord (if he had more than one house he rented, he might qualify). He annoys Cullen one night due to his drunken revelry, which ends up toppling a series of dominoes — Billy’s family, hobbies, and livelihood will never be the same. Big Paul’s around for some of this and has a connection to one of Billy’s tenants.
Pale Ale Rider is probably my favorite of the three. It’s the story of a teenage petty criminal with the eyes of a serial killer, the young woman who puts him on a trajectory toward more serious crime and the small brewery (and some employees thereof) that unwittingly provide him a home base and the means for his crimes.
The central character, who really isn’t around as much as you might expect is Cullen, an ex-police detective anti-hero type. Homeless by choice, and living entirely off-the-grid (and unaware of much happening on the grid), he wanders around the country righting wrongs and living life on his own terms (like TV’s David Banner — without the gamma-radiation-induced temper issue). I don’t particularly mind or dislike him, I just don’t think he’s that interesting — I see where he’s supposed to be, but he never clicked for me. I think I need a little more of/about him before I could be hooked.
On the other hand, there’s one other character who shows up in each story that I did find pretty interesting, and would happily read more of — Big Paul/Beep (a nickname we see explained repeatedly, but not used) is a laid-back carpenter, with a very casual attitude toward life, money and punctuality. He’s not the most educated of men, but later shows some signs of effort to change that. He’s just a fun character, someone you’d probably like to hang out with.
Almost every other character is pretty well-drawn and fleshed-out. Yeah, we learn a bit too much about them in info dumps, but Farrer does a good job of building on those descriptions and rounding out the characters in the following pages. From the titular characters to their victims, family or friends these characters are what make the novellas compelling and interesting. They’re the real stars of the various novellas and the reason to keep reading.
Aside from a pretty non-compelling protagonist, my major complaint is the amount of crass descriptions and depictions of sex. Yes, sex is very important to one plot and is a powerful motivator in the others, and thankfully we’re not given a detailed description of the act. But it’s too pervasive for me, particularly the way it’s talked about (by both characters and narration). Call me a prude, or whatever, but it just struck me as distasteful.
These are fast, off-beat, readable works full of compelling characters (if you ignore the protagonist, who isn’t bad, he’s just not as interesting as the rest) — this book/these novellas are just the thing for a quick, refreshing read — not a full meal, but a hearty snack. I do recommend reading them separately, I think they’d be more enjoyable not read back-to-back-to-back, but that’s tough to say with any degree of certainty. Give them a shot.
My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the collection) they provided.