I think Denis Shaughnessy just invented a new genre.

This is crime fiction, but it’s also a wickedly funny send-up of crime novels. It’s a wonderfully self-aware text, in which a completely not self-aware author creates chaos by writing literally whatever comes into his head and hoping the reader will let him get away with it. Meanwhile, the reader is treated to an ongoing conversation between Marco Ocram, novice author, and Herbert Quarry, an experienced literary author who doubts that Marco has the ability to write a great novel but possesses an absolute belief in his ability to cobble together something that might pass as a book if someone was desperate. Oh, and Herbert Quarry is actually in jail for the brutal murder of his illicit lover, Lola Kellogg.

What’s it about?

Marco’s increasingly ludicrous and apparently red-herring sprinkled investigation into who really killed Lola Kellogg is laid out in front of the reader with, apparently, no artifice, as Marco is both writing and concurrently starring in the drama he creates, meaning he cannot edit anything and frequently reveals his ignorance.

‘Having asked me to confirm it was the device I used for emails, he performed some technical tasks I didn’t understand sufficiently to make up, then handed it back.’

‘I added the stock phrase to give myself time to think of a reason why I wouldn’t know about Herbert’s love life.’

What’s it like?

Deliciously comic. Increasingly silly. Wonderfully entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Marco create his world and contort the story into ever more bizarre situations. This is the kind of book you read with a highlighter or pen constantly in hand, (if you’re the kind of horror who writes in books, desecrating them for evermore,) or with a pad of paper / iPad to take notes of your favourite lines.

‘It seemed an ungracious way to treat the writer who had gone to so much trouble to invent him, but I nodded, hoping he would get to the point.’

I particularly enjoyed the moments when Marco contemplates his character’s interactions with his own character, or comments on another character’s use of punctuation, or identifies the author whose style he is about to try to mimic, or contemplates the possibility of padding out a chapter with bonus searches, or explicitly identifies the clichés he is using, or… OK, I just thoroughly enjoyed all of it. Even the incredibly daft ending.

Health warning

In the same way that Janet Evanovich’s set of books featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and sidekick Lula are light comedy with a slightly uncomfortable seam, (Lula is a prostitute at the start of the series and her old profession is treated with irreverence throughout) there’s a little niggle right at the heart of this book that could make some readers uncomfortable. The murder victim, Lola Kellogg, is 15, and while Marco is certain his friend Herbert is not a murderer, he is a paedophile. This is handled with a light touch, but some readers may find treating such subject matter so lightly uncomfortable.

Final thoughts

I absolutely loved reading this and am looking forward to uncovering The Awful Truth about the Sushing Prize, another book penned by Marco as he lives through the ridiculous drama he creates, whilst contemplating whether his readers will notice that he knows nothing about forensics, or police procedures, or anatomy, or computers, or…

Want to get more of a feel for Ocram’s style? I’ll be hosting an extract from the book this Friday, so keep a look out for that.

‘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.