Saturday, 9 April 2011

Yawning Review


The grave case of the detective clown

Beginning an irregular series of book reviews, Mark Cantrell takes a walk through the curiously undead streets of Greasetown


Title: When Graveyards Yawn (2002)
Author: G Wells Taylor
Price: FREE
Format: Kindle (plus other device formats)
Source: Many Books (www.manybooks.net)


The graveyard in the title of this book by Canadian author G Wells Taylor might well be yawning, but this eclectic amalgamation of genre fictions certainly won’t have that effect on the reader.

This is a curious and entertaining novel that works breathlessly (apt, given some of its major characters’ state of being) across the expectations of genre, but it is perhaps easy to see why the author chose to release this title free in an effort to plug the remaining two books in the trilogy it represents.

Simply put, it’s a novel that defies the ever-tightening strictures imposed on authors and readers alike by the demands of the marketing industry. Or, to put it another way, it demands some work from the marketing department that doesn’t involve simply cutting and pasting some of the publicity material for the last ten releases.

A cynical view, perhaps, but When Graveyards Yawn does not sit easily in the accepted slots of fiction categorisation, or in terms of easy definitions about the book itself. Frankly, it pushes the boundaries; these days, by definition, that makes it no easy sell, but for all that it is an engaging and entertaining novel.

So, what is the book about?

In essence, it’s a detective novel. And much as one might expect, it features a down-at-heel private dick, the stoic and much put upon sidekick, a dangerous femme fatale, a client and a murder to solve, but as the clues mount up, the detective work opens up a suitable labyrinth of twists and turns, intrigues and deceptions, that build up into a multi-layered mystery. And our gumshoe is slap bang in the middle of the action.

But hold on. This is no straightforward detective mystery thriller.

Even from the beginning, we quickly discern that this is not the expected noirish universe: for one thing, our gumshoe is called Tommy Wildclown. As the name says, he is a clown – a priapic, alcoholic one, with a disjointed and somewhat psychotic personality at that – complete with outlandish clothes and face paint.

The man Wildclown isn’t much of a detective, it must be said, but he shares some mysterious connection with the driving personality – the actual detective – who is trapped into serially possessing his body. Yes, it gets a little strange.

We encounter this unusual relationship right from the start, told through the ‘eyes’ of the narrator, as his spirit drifts in close proximity to his messed up host. To be honest, this scene-setting and character introduction is a little confusing and off-putting at first, but it locks down with the second chapter, opening up a book that is worth the effort – provided one sticks through that initially-disjointing first chapter.

Quite why the spirit-‘tec is condemned to haunt this freaked out clown is all part of the mystery, and no doubt fully explored and revealed across the trilogy, but he himself is as baffled by this haunting as the reader. Whether he is the genuine spirit of a dead man condemned to haunt – and possess – this clown, or whether he is some eerily fragmented, but functioning, aspect of the clown’s shattered personality is deliberately left open to question.

Regardless, whether spirit or not, he has to keep his flesh and blood clown in relatively good shape, if he is to get to the bottom of things – and that means plenty of bread and butter gumshoe work. The case that duly arrives, presents himself as a relatively straightforward murder, but it is about to propel both clown and ghostly detective into the heart of the mystery that has clutched the world in a state of baffling undeath.

Oh, and the client is also the murder victim; he was shot in the back of the head and he’s none too happy about it. From there things get, well, stranger and stranger, if not curiouser and curiouser (but to be fair, that is another novel entirely, and there are certainly no white rabbits here, late or otherwise).

When Graveyards Yawn presents a world that has definitely seen better days. Set 50 years after an incident known only as The Change, death as we understand it has become a thing of the past. Bacteria are extinct, the dead don't exactly shuffle off the mortal coil, but they don't become the shambling brain-dead zombies of Romero movies either. In the aftermath of this macabre transition, conventional governments have collapsed as the dead settle in, and everything is controlled by the ubiquitous 'Authority'.

There are a few niggles, mostly of the editing and formatting kind, which can detract somewhat from the reading experience on occasions, but overall this is an engaging story that will keep you reading late into the night and beyond.

Mark Cantrell,
Stoke-on-Trent,
26 March 2011

Copyright © March 2011. All Rights Reserved.


Category: REVIEWS

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