Wednesday, March 22, 2006
GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET by Donna Moore
Point Blank Press, 2006, 0809557363
Donna Moore's ludicrously screwball send up of just about every crime book you've ever read is, like all the best comedy, at once painful and deleriously intoxicating. Like every bad book I get sent here at Crime Scene Scotland, it contains ludicrously stupid protagonists, unbelievably violent (and yet strangely bloodless) violence and more logic leaps than a metaphysical gymkhana. And unlike all those bad books I had an absolute ball reading it. The difference between this and the truly awful books is one of intent. Like a criminally-minded Spike Milligan, Donna Moore knows exactly what she's doing to the reader when she introduces characters with names like Robin Banks (and his brother, Owen Banks), FBI agent Art Ifarti and of course, the titular Helena Handbasket. And those are the most palatable puns (When I finally realised what the joke was behind Helena's psycho sidekick, I almost broke down in tears).
Its a silly book in so many ways (which is, of course, the point) and yet for fans of the mystery genre - especially those who despair at the way some bestselling writers (For this reader, one such writer might have a surname beginning "Ev") still manage to work in ridiculously dopey heroines, utterly unbelievable action and stupid crime solving (if apparently dyslexic) cats - there is a lot to laugh about. And at 153 pages (despite the chapter headed "A pointless personal interlude into the life of protagonist, or, how to up the word count"), Moore knows when the joke is up. In fact a lot of more serious writers could take a note here and start trimming their novels back by at least seventy percent. And cutting out those pointless personal interludes.
And for those serial killer writers: just the opening pages tell you everything you need to know about how predictably ludicrous the genre has become...
Go To Helena Handbasket is a fun, affectionate parody that shows its good nature by being kind where it could be cruel and yet it never fails to drag those genre conventions and cliches out into the open where they can be righteously mocked and deliciously parodied. Useful both as a reference point for crime writers desparate to avoid cliches but better read as a good natured and wildly energetic parody of the genre as a whole, Go To Helena Handbasket is, quite simply, great fun and by the end you'll be crying out for Moore from this inventive and sharp author.
Russel McLean for CrimeSceneScotland, 18/05/06