‘I was beginning to regret choosing crime as the subject for my mold-breaking bestseller – the red tape was fierce.’

Today I am delighted to host an extract from The Awful Truth About the Herbert Quarry Affair, a book purportedly written by the main character in real time…

How does that work?

Denis Shaughnessy is the author of the Awful Truth series of surreal comedies which introduce a new way of writing fiction. The supposed author, Marco Ocram, seems to be inventing the stories in real time as he appears as a self-invented character, sharing with the reader many of his immediate thoughts about his writing. Since he’s typing the story as he goes, he has no chance to edit anything or to think ahead, so he makes all sorts of mistakes. In this extract from The Awful Truth about the Herbert Quarry Affair, Marco and policeman Como Galahad are in a fairground to tail a suspect who will be carrying a toy rabbit.


At 5:23pm I handed Como a candy floss and we wandered to a bench where we could watch the entrance to the amusement park. Earlier that afternoon, having completed our research in Assumption Springs, we had returned to Police HQ where we spent the intervening hours following humdrum police procedure of the sort that might have padded out a couple of chapters in a conventional thriller. I find that sort of thing far too boring to write, however, so to spare us all the tedium, I decided instead to summarize it via some utterly unconvincing dialogue to bring the readers up to speed.

“Well, Como, what did you make of this afternoon’s discovery that the homes of Marcia Delgado and Marge Downberry are held in trust by a Panamanian law firm?”

“I’d sure like to get to the bottom of that, Writer, especially since we also discovered that the same law firm performs services for several companies owned by Elijah Bow.”

“Yes, it’s just a shame we didn’t manage to find evidence to tie Bow to the houses.”

We took bites at our candy floss to give the readers a chance to digest the implications of our discussion.

Having got the blatant exposition out of the way, I wondered whether I ought to build an atmospheric sense of expectation for the ensuing scene, perhaps describing the various rides in the funfair, the many musical sounds, the excited chatter of children hand-in-hand with parents, the thousands of coloured lights, the shouts of the ride attendants drumming-up business, the metallic tings from the shooting range, the smells of toffee apples and hot dogs, the teenage girls pretending to ignore the teenage boys, the screams from the daredevils on the scarier rides, the drunks accosting strangers for change, the seagulls wheeling down to gulp discarded food, the nervous-looking woman carrying a toy rabbit, the goldfish that…

The nervous-looking woman carrying a toy rabbit!

I nudged Como.

“Look! Someone with a toy rabbit. Do you think she’s our man?”

“Let’s go see. Don’t get too close.”

Cunningly holding our candy floss to obscure our faces—or should that be candy flosses? —we sidled through the crowds to intercept the route of the rabbit-bearing woman, falling into her slipstream about twenty paces behind. From time to time, she glanced about, clearly unnerved by her mission, though possibly not as unnerved as I was by the sheer nonsense I found myself typing. As she turned a corner, I gained a clear view of her face—it was Quimara Tann!

“I know her,” I hissed to Como. “She was talking to me in the coffee shop, slagging off Herbert.”

With huge excitement, on my part at least, we trailed her through the fairground. I wondered whether the readers would be in the least surprised to find she headed straight to the Ferris wheel, as per the instructions we had emailed to Herbert’s address. We stood behind her in the line for tickets, Como having coached me to do nothing that might attract her attention.

“A ticket for a lovely lady,” said the cheery attendant, helping Quimara into a wobbly gondola. “Two tickets, gentlemen? That’ll be ten bucks.”

Como preempted any suggestion he might pay.

“Don’t look at me, Writer—this was your idea.”

“Can’t you put it on expenses?”

“Are you shitting me?”

“Hold this.”

I gave Como my candy floss while I dug some cash from my stylish corduroys. Payment made, I stepped unsteadily into the next gondola, Como squeezing alongside me.

A bell rang.

“Whoa, sorry folks, that’s the overload alarm. Can’t have both of you gentlemen in the car, I’m afraid. Begging your pardons, if I could ask the smaller of you gentlemen to come forward and join this lady in the next car. You won’t mind will you, ma’am?”

From behind his candy floss, Como shot me a look loaded with warnings and well-intentioned advice, none of which I understood. Positioning my own candy floss as a visual shield to maintain my incognito status, I climbed in next to Quimara Tann. A big glob of pink goo stuck to the fur on the left ear of her toy rabbit.

“Sorry, sorry.”

I tried to wipe it off with one hand, holding my sugary pink mask with the other. The sticky strands went all over my fingers. I juggled the stick of the candy floss to free my clean hand to get a hanky from my satchel, accidentally dropping more sugary gloop onto Quimara’s skirt.

“Now look what you’ve done.”

“Sorry, sorry.”

I went to wipe it off.

“Don’t touch me, you pervert.”


I squeezed as far away from Quimara as I could, while she dabbed at the candy floss deposits on her thigh. Our gondola was approaching the top of its vertical orbit, seemingly a mile above the fairground. I shut my eyes. Ever since a middle-ear infection in my twenties, my balance had been shot and I’d developed an uncontrollable fear of heights. I wanted to clutch the restraining bar with both hands, but I needed to keep my candy floss shield in place to stop her from recognizing me. I almost fell out over the side when Quimara Tann’s phone went off, her unfortunate choice of ringtone being the sound of gunshots. Suppressing my panic, I tried to memorize her side of the conversation as she took the call…

“I’m there now…Yes, on the Ferris wheel…Yes, I’ve got the rabbit with me…No, only some idiot…Half an hour! It’s five bucks a go…OK.”

We circulated five times before the ride stopped and nudged forward car by car to let off the thrill-seekers. I clambered out in reverse to preserve my anonymity behind my candy floss, half of which had drooped to form a horrible mess all over my forearm. Holding the sticky confection before me, like Liberty brandishing her torch, I reversed from the ride to wait for Como to disembark from the next car. Quimara, meanwhile, had paid another five bucks to stay in her seat. We waited for her to be lifted into the heavens before we spoke.

“Good job you did nothing to attract her attention, Writer.”


This extract is absolutely typical of the chaos found within The Awful Truth, as Marco tries to establish who could have framed his dear friend, Herbert, who also happens to be his literary mentor.

Chapters alternate between Marco’s investigative efforts and brief vignettes like the following:

‘What will my experience of writing a book be like, Herbert?’
‘It will be like the Cresta Run, Marco.’
‘You mean…thrills and excitement at every turn?’
‘No, I mean you would get off to a slow start and then go downhill fast.’


If you enjoyed reading the extracts above then you should definitely get hold of a copy of The Awful Truth about the Herbert Quarry Affair.

Still not sure? You can read my full review here.

Very excited? Then you’ll be delighted to be reminded that this book is part of an ongoing Awful Truth series. I’m looking forward to reading The Awful Truth about the Sushing Prize next, helpfully advertised as ‘when idiots fight crime’.

‘The Awful Truth about the Herbert Quarry Affair’,
Denis Shaughnessy,
2021, Tiny Fox Press, paperback

Many thanks to Rachel’s Random Resources and the actual author, Denis Shaughnessy, for providing me with this extract and a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.