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

2 thoughts on “Behind the Paint”

  1. Actually, I just finished reading this today. My library had it available as a download and I have to completely agree with your review. It wasn’t a bad story but one that definitely could have benefited from a more robust page count.

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