Set in Vancouver 1957, R. Daniel Lester fills his novella Dead Clown Blues (Shotgun Honey) with the language and feel of a hard-boiled story of that time. To do this, Lester immersed himself in the writings Chandler, Hammett and Ellroy’s “L.A. Quartet”. Lester tells Steve Lauden:
In hindsight, two big inspirations were the private eye main characters from Richard Brautigan’s Dreaming of Babylon and Charles Bukowski’s Pulp, both of which I’d read prior. Neither writer are known as P.I./detective genre writers, but I think they knocked their efforts out of the park. Goofy and poignant at the same time. Throughout the past years, as I edited and rewrote, I’ve read both books a few times (along with more Chandler, Hammett, Ellroy, etc.) to get in the zone.
These influences bleed through the pages of Lester’s Dead Clown Blues like a shot-up gangster in a black-and-white movie. Okay, okay, I’ll stop now. But reading this book was a non-stop joy and right from the get-go, you know what you are getting.
The diner was Deadsville with a capital “D.” I ordered breakfast for lunch and headed for my usual back booth. The only other customer in the joint was propped up on his elbow at the counter, snoring Zs over a bowl of Boston clam chowder. Harry drove a bus and had one ex-wife, two mortgages, three kids and rumour had it, personally slit the throats of four enemy soldiers at Incheon. Whatever the case, now he just looked on the other side of the knife.
The narrator, Carnegie Fitch, is a not-so-successful gumshoe who gets two cases at the beginning of the book. The first is a “hide-and-click surveillance job” and the other is to investigate the suspicious death of janitor named Jim. Oddly enough, Jim was an ex-circus clown.
Following Fitch around 1950s Vancouver is a blast. Lester doesn’t have Fitch blunder through the cases, it’s more of one step forward and two steps back private eye work. A slight difference, I know. Dead Clown Blues has missing money, a gang of clowns, renegade janitors, and a woman riding an elephant. All of that and some great writing make Lester’s Dead Clown Blues a quick and fun read. I’m glad I didn’t let this one slip by and, at $2.99 for the e-book, neither should you. Don’t be that clown.