Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Brett gets Hammered by David D’Aguanno, a tongue-in-cheek private-eye murder mystery which I finished reading earlier this week.
Characters: Self-confessed “unscrupulous bastard” Brett Cornell narrates this character-driven story (and the character is Brett) of an attempted frame-up that ends in murder. Brett’s an over-the-top jerk, conceited, rude and arrogant, heading up a cast of unsympathetic characters. Brett’s perspective on things is like a slow-motion train-wreck — you can hardly believe the god-awfulness, yet you can’t look away.
I don’t mean that the writing is bad. On the contrary, once I got the gist, in the first few pages, of just how horrible Brett is, I found it great fun. Brett is well-drawn — just utterly lacking in any kind of inhibition. Or tact. Or compassion. He makes up for it with plenty of nerve, however.
Here, Brett meets potential new client Tammy Rankin at a restaurant. Brett immediately orders two beers. You go Brett! But Tammy’s boyfriend Jerry takes exception:
“What the hell do you need two beers for?”
“Well, one of them I’m gonna drink,” I told him easily as I turned in his direction and flashed a toothy grin at him, “and the other one I’m gonna throw straight into that fat, ugly face of yours. That answer your question, bonehead?”
My “character triangle” consists of what characters say, what they do and what they look like. Author Dave offers all three with Brett. Of course character descriptions come via Brett’s perspective. Here’s his view of Tammy Rankin, who with her wimpy, over-weight, alcoholic brother Andy, hire Brett:
I mean, Tammy Rankin already looked damned hot, sitting there with those magnificent knockers of hers barely contained within the confines of the flimsy white blouse she had on. Tammy Rankin would also look really, really hot with my bod’ pressed right up against hers, I’m sure. But even hotter would be the sight of Tammy Rankin forking over a few thousand dollars to Yours Truly after she’d sealed the deal with me by taking a few brisk rides on the good old Cornell Express, and whatever else my sharp but devious mind could come up with while I was in her company.
Brett’s own appearance is that of a blonde adonis with “fantastic looking buttocks” — according to Brett, of course.
We also learn, through the story’s action, that Brett isn’t scared of anyone or anything, can take and deliver a punch, and can solve a crime — if he thinks there’s something in it for him.
Other characters are well-drawn, though a bit two-dimensional in keeping with the farcical nature of the book. Larger-than-life Brett seems to upstage them all, however.
Plot: Tammy Rankin and brother Andy hire Brett to frame their father’s trophy-wife Vanessa for their father’s death by heart attack, since their father left Vanessa the family fortune. Local law says convicted felons can’t inherit, so if Vanessa goes to prison, the money goes to Tammy and Andy. Brett sees the job as a way of bilking the Rankins, until an actual murder by stabbing intrudes on his scheme — in his own apartment, while he’s away.
Setting: Brett’s tale of his own awesomeness takes place in Birchwood, Rhode Island in general, with a lot of it in the Rankin’s mansion. Alas, Brett’s self-centered perception leaves little room for anything else. Here’s his take on the mansion:
The Rankin mansion looked almost exactly the way I’d pictured it – the kind of place I expected to park my very own butt in in about four years when I became independently wealthy and could afford to do nothing all day but recline wherever the hell I wanted to and have the most delectable women on hand to service me twenty-four/seven.
What I thought could’ve been done better: Perhaps in keeping with the story’s farcical nature, the characters are largely two-dimensional. The women seem like bimbos, the men jerks, with Brett the biggest of them all. Once I turned on the “suspension of disbelief,” I had a fine time with this tale, but as a fellow writer I think Dave may have missed an opportunity by keeping his characters entirely in the shallows.
I particularly needed that suspension of disbelief in the beginning. Tammy and Andy, considering hiring Brett for what sounds like a job requiring utmost skill and subtlety, get full exposure to Brett’s buffoonish behavior, and yet go forward.
I felt lack of setting details were another missed opportunity. Even though Brett is what he is, that doesn’t necessarily preclude sarcastic observations on the scene, while giving readers some color and orientation.
A master of this is George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman series. Flashman, king of all unscrupulous bastards, nevertheless gives colorful and vivid, if cynical and humorous takes on the times and places of his own adventures with wars and women around the world in Victorian times.
What I thought was good: First, I liked the verbal, muscular writing.
In my overwhelming concern over him not being able to see what was inside my trunk, I had my eyes zeroed in on the rear of my car, and I watched the trunk door bob back open as Mullins pulled my arm away from it. Then in the next second, he nailed me with a powerful right cross, and I hit the cement, butt-first. “Get back up, loser,” Mullins snarled down at me.
Verbs are the muscles of writing, and strong, active verbs can take the place of description. For instance “he nailed me…” — Dave really doesn’t even need to write that the right cross is “powerful” — the verb does that alone, since a feeble right cross wouldn’t be able to “nail” Brett.
Even the trunk door doesn’t just open. It “bobs” open.
Note the good attribution — “Mullins snarled…”
I also enjoyed know-it-all Brett’s frequent mistaken metaphors and confused allusions.
I must confess that I’ve never hesitated to re-enforce my standing as a supreme unscrupulous bastard, figuring that if Alfred Schwarzenhammer got to be known for his muscles and Franz Sherbet got to be known for his ice cream, then I – Brett Cornell – ought to be known for something besides my big incredible, uh, personality – right?
I liked most the way Brett disassembles every relationship and social gathering, Marx Brothers and Three Stooges style, with his smug idiocy. He suffers no fools, except for the biggest one of them all, himself.
And there is, also, an interesting murder mystery involved. Who killed the young woman in Brett’s apartment, and why? And can buffoonish Brett solve the case before the murder gets pinned on him?
Overall: Brett gets Hammered is classic anti-hero, wildly over the top, written with snap and broad humor. Though I needed a touch of forbearance to fully enter Brett’s world, I found this journey into the egregious vastly entertaining — and even finished with a grudging admiration for how Brett handled things in the end.
Good job Dave!