By the Balls by “Dashiell Loveless” (a pseudonym for Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender) is packaged beautifully. The cover is a gorgeous re-do of the old Dell “keyhole” paperbacks — you could hardly spot the difference, except for the price. And it’s a spoof of every hard-boiled mystery ever written. Unfortunately, what’s between the covers doesn’t live up to what’s on them. It only mostly works as a spoof, kind of makes it to hard-boiled status, and scarcely works as a mystery at all.
Ben Drake is a private investigator. His boss, Hal, gives him a murder case: Gentleman Joe Biggs, one of the bowling elite of Testacy City (no, not kidding) has had his head crushed between two bowling balls, and Biggs’s mother wants to know why. Drake drifts from one witness or suspect to another, drinking bourbon most of the time (Testacy City is definitely not safe with this man behind the wheel) and finding out almost nothing until the final clue is literally dropped in his lap. The dialogue is repetitive and flaccid. There are a few funny lines (“There’s nothing like a mourning widow. And [she] was nothing like a mourning widow. More like a morning window, and I could see right through her.” — hardly deathless, but funny) but for the most part it’s pretty tired. The constant mentions of smoking, drinking, and negligées give more of a sense that the authors are trying to be transgressive than that something really wicked or hard-bitten is going on. And the plot… while I don’t require much from a hard-boiled plot (see, for instance, most of Chandler), there was certainly no way you could figure this one out as you read, if that’s important to you. It gave me a couple of chuckles, and it wasn’t so bad I couldn’t finish it, but that’s the most I can say for it.
I know you’re wondering why I read this. It was for my book club. We eat at a different place each time we meet, usually somewhere suited to the book we’re reading, and this time someone suggested we all go bowling together, so of course we had to read a bowling mystery. The things I do to socialize with book people! Have you read anything really flaming awful for a book club, or, on the contrary, anything truly wonderful that otherwise you wouldn’t have tried?