Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Review of Go To Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore, Point Blank (2006)

Helena Handbasket is a private investigator. Owen Banks is her first customer. Someone has sent him the severed hands of his brother, Robin Banks, and he wants his killer found. Robin has been missing for five years, ever since 30 million pounds worth of jewels were stolen from his boss, Evan Stubezzi. Handbasket, and her psychotic sidekick, Fifi Fofum, take the case aided by their computer whizz friend, Heidi Salami. Soon other bodies, start to turn-up, missing their hands, a scarlet fish inserted in a stomach wound, and a quote from the bible placed in their mouth. Told to keep her nose out of police business by Inspector Frank Lee, a loner, maverick cop, and FBI agent, Art Ifarti, Handbasket ignores all the warnings and stumbles from clue to clue, cocktail to cocktail, and one prospective man to another.

As my eyes adjusted to the gloom inside, I noticed that every head in the place had turned (some of them virtually 360 degrees) to look at me. The bar's denizens froze, and a silence descended. The snooker players stood away from the table and stared at me as their balls clicked together (it's strange how often I have that effect on men); the conversations about football, women and shootin' stuff broke off abruptly, and the small, strange-looking boy in the corner stopped playing the banjo and wiped his nose on his dungarees. The place was a Twlight Home for the terminally befuddled. The smartest thing in the place was probably the cockroach fleeing for the exit.

I’m a great fan of clever, funny books – Jasper Fforde, Tom Sharpe, Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin, Douglas Adams, etc. Go to Helena Handbasket is both very clever and very funny, so it was no surprise I enjoyed it immensely. Donna Moore ruthlessly parodies the crime genre, sending up every cliché, stereotypical character and corny plot device to great effect through a noirish lens. As I read, I had a permanent grin plastered across my face and laughed out loud many times. The puns, gags, sarcasm, cringing similes, and comic set pieces come thick and fast. The characterization is first rate and the plot unfolds as a smart, witty puzzle. Handbasket is a great creation – a kind of private investigator version of Clouseau, who believes she’s the bees knees but is actually rather hopeless and yet despite her ineptitude she somehow stumbles towards solving the case. It’s difficult to think of a direct comparison, but the writing and style reminded me of the Spike Milligan. And like Milligan’s writing, I would love to see Go To Helena Handbasket converted to radio or television; in the hands of right people it would become a cult classic.

I'll leave the final words to Fifi Fofum, a character described as Joan Crawford on crack cocaine:

"Grab a cloud ya torpedoes or I'll squirt metal and fill ya so full of holes yous could double up as a tea bag. I've got plenty of swift so don't be bunnies and sit on your keisters and hold your yaps. One crack out of any of you and I'll pat you with a spade."


pattinase (abbott) said...

There are so few funny books. Must be hard to do. One person's sense of humor (say mine) is not always another's. I love STRAIGHT MAN by Richard Russo but that depends on understanding academic life. I'll look for this.

Maxine Clarke said...

I can add my vote (as one who does not often find "funny" books funny) that this one is hilarious!