Behind the Paint

Huey Dusk by Whit Howland; a review.

‘Girl Scouts with guns. Maniacal mimes. Murder. Intrigue. Big floppy shoes. It’s all in a day’s work for Huey Dusk, clown and private dick. In his latest case, Dusk discovers there are plans afoot to rub him out. Can he locate his would-be killers before he ends up a puddle of greasepaint? Part noir, part humour and more fun than a three-ring circus, Huey Dusk will change how you look at mysteries.’

So says the blurb of this debut novella from newcomer, Whit Howland; but are all these things true? Is it part noir, part comedy, and more fun than a three-ring circus? I’ll have to say for the first two, yes! The latter statement will get a no, sorry, but definitely do not agree. I’ve been to circuses and they are much more fun than the grim scenes featured in this eNovella. And that’s okay. Killer clowns are not meant to be fun, but that’s not to say that they can’t be funny.

By definition, a novella has less time than a novel to pull the reader in, and thusly it is imperative that the reader is captivated within the first half a page. Unfortunately I didn’t find Huey Dusk quite achieving that. This was in no small part due to the very choppy nature and static prose of the opening scenes. Nonetheless, there was still something in these scenes that made me want to know more. A clown who’s taking drugs just seconds before entertaining the children… Not your normal opening scenes, but certainly the kind that makes the reader want to plough on. I’m glad I did.

Due to the word count there’s a little less story in this novella than I would have liked. Indeed I felt it was a story with more promise, so much more I’d not been privy to. The world Whit has created is pretty fantastic, in every sense of that word. A world where clowns are real people, not just guys in make-up doing a job. You cut a clown, he bleeds white. A world where mimes really don’t speak. It’s all wonderfully macabre, and a lot of the darkness of this tale (with Huey the Clown trying to solve the mystery of his would-be-killer) reminded me greatly of the scenes in Psychoville with Mr Jelly, the one-handed embittered clown on a mission to discredit his nemesis Mr Jolly. This is a very good thing, and almost certainly unintentional since I don’t think Whit has seen the BBC comedy in question.

Many people think there is something inherently scary about clowns. I’ve never understood why, personally, but those people who do will no doubt find this story incredibly creepy. I personally found it rather amusing and interesting in equal measure. The plot wasn’t all that, but the characters make the piece for me. There’s a very knowing wink throughout most of the work, as if Whit is playing with the readers. And for all I know maybe he is. Certainly the world of Huey Dusk is an odd one, one that recalls much of the flavour of noir films, marrying that with the dark comedy of the best League of Gentlemen episodes. It’s a perfect match.

I look forward to reading more about this clown, and seeing how Whit’s prose improves with time and experience. A debut story is hardly ever a good indication of what the author is, but it shows the promise of what Whit Howland can become. Come along for the ride, I suspect you won’t be disappointed.

Huey Dusk is available directly from Untreed Reads for only $2.99 (and all good eBook retailers). But if you buy within the month of October, you can get 25% off as part of Untreed’s month-long Hallowe’en sale.

Text © 2010 Andy Frankham-Allen,
Huey Dusk cover © 2010 Untreed Reads Publishing LLC, All Rights Reserved

Hallowe’en Flavoured Review

A new review for my long-short ‘Off Flesh‘ is now up at Giovanni Gelati’s blog; Gelati’s Scoop

“Just a disclaimer here before we begin. I really wasn’t paying attention to title when I started to read this bad boy. I got to the end of this digital short and I said wow, time out. I probably should have seen it coming, but Off Flesh really packs a twisted punch at the end. This is all done in approximately 5800 words. I read this on my laptop and did it quickly and the ending stuck with me for a while. Shocked yes, I will say it again. Should have seen it coming, probably, but I think that is what makes Andy Frankham- Allen a good writer. He has us very quickly identify with the character on some level; makes us understand his desires and then, bam. Can I say enough about this digital short? Sure, have you found me to be at a loss for words? Hahaha. I just want to respect the author’s writing and not spoil the surprise for you. Just know there is one coming at you.

Off Flesh is a good story for this time of year as we get closer to Halloween. My suggestion is to read this in the daylight and try to cushion yourself as you jump out of your seat, but try to have some fun with it. I think the author would like that. Basically I think my wife is going to ask me if she can read this when she gets done fixing all my typos and mistakes and I am going to tell her to pass on this one, otherwise I would probably get a good shot in the arm when she gets done reading it.”


And here is something I wrote to go with that review, but never made it (for reasons I do not know – oh well, no point in wasting it).

Why Am I Always the Vampire?

It’s October all over again!

I love everything about it. The change in the atmosphere, the longer nights. It’s the most reflective time of the year for me, the end of another year of my life, and thus the start of a new chapter. And I simply adore October! Why? Because it means Hallowe’en is on the way…

Hallowe’en; for most it’s a time to party, to dress up and delve into the slightly more macabre things in life. In a fun way, of course. I’m not immune to this fun. I’m always being invited to Hallowe’en fancy dress parties, and almost always people say I should go as a vampire. Why me? Okay, yes, sure, everyone who knows me in the real world knows full well of my interest in all things vampiric; books, DVDs, mythology – you name it, I’m almost certainly going to be interested (although I do draw the line at popular vampire fiction, ala Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, etc. After all, I do have standards and a reputation to maintain!). I have dressed up as a vampire, of course, but the truth is dressing up a vampire is kind of dull. Especially these days.

The image of the vampire is so sanitised; we’ve moved a long way from the vampire of ancient mythology, they of the bloated blood-filled bodies, and the hairy feet. Hell, even the suave Lugosi-style vampire is old hat. Now it’s all Edward Cullen, Angel, Spike and Bill Compton, and let’s be honest here, unless we’re looking into the origins of these characters there’s not much we can do to dress up. There’s nothing distinctive about them. Apart from the paler than usual skin and sometimes fangs, they look much like everyone else. Okay, sure I could bleach my hair, slick it back, and wear a deep red shirt under a long leather coat and say I’ve come as Spike, but not really much of a ‘fancy dress’ is it? There’s always the more obscure vampires, of course. Lon Chaney’s Balfour from London After Midnight, or perhaps Max Schreck’s Orlock from Nosferatu? Very distinctive images; although the former would almost certainly be lost on most people at any given party, and the latter would probably be confused with Mr Barlow from the 1970s version of ‘salem’s Lot. So you see, what can you do? When it comes to vampires and Hallowe’en parties you’re stuck with countless (excuse the pun) Lugosi- and Lee-style Draculas. Sure, a classic, but rather obvious and boring, too.

Vampires fascinate me; they always have and always will. For every generation a new kind of vampire is created, to slightly borrow from Buffy, although it’s a pity that these new vampires are all much the same. Very little is new (except sparkles! And as crap as that is, at least Stephenie Meyer brought something new to contemporary vampire fiction – okay, granted it’s the only new thing she brought, but, hey, let’s move on), and all is but a variation on the common image of the vampire seen everywhere for the last sixty-odd years. On the surface it’s all fangs and pale skin. Not exactly the most exciting kind of fancy dress. So, maybe, until we get a more interesting kind of visual vampire, it’s time to move on at Hallowe’en and come as something a little more interesting?

No, you say? Okay, then, but if you see hundreds of Draculas at the end of the month, you just remember what I said. Three words; variety, life, spice. The same is true for Hallowe’en fancy dress parties.

Text © 2010 Andy Frankham-Allen,
Off Flesh cover © 2010 Untreed Reads Publishing LLC,
All other images © 2000, 2009 Andy Frankham-Allen, All Rights Reserved