Monday, July 31, 2006

McManus on Mystery

For those of you who grew up with such fine literary publications as Field & Stream and Outdoor Life, you are no doubt familiar with that master of mirth, Pat McManus. I may be his number one fay-un (Stephen King reference--Misery--try to keep up here). I've spent many an afternoon during the loneliness of my adolescence with such colorful characters as Retch Sweeney, Rancid Crabtree, Crazy Eddie Muldoon, Pat's sister The Troll, and his dog Strange. In a thousand words or less, Pat had me on the floor, panting for relief, Strange licking my face with the world’s most foul breath, trying to recoup me.

So when I saw a bright red book jacket with Pat McManus across the top and the word "mystery" popping out somewhere at the bottom, I was floating on air. My wife,, Kelly, pulled me down and told me to wait until it came to the library. We have a very strict one hardback per year rule, and I'd already bought seventeen by that chilly day in January, so I had nowhere to turn. I would have to wait to read The Blight Way.

Finally, my mother-in-law, bless her heart, bought the book and passed it on to me. I was curious to see how Pat would maintain such wildly whacky characters for 270 pages. Well, he didn't. He's the best of the best, but not superhuman. He toned down the characters to make room for an actual plot, a good one I might add, and kept the characters just eccentric enough to crack a smile on my face from time to time.

Now, I must be a bit hard on my hero. While the plot was well thought out and the clues carefully placed, his prose lacked that of a skilled novelist. I know Mr. McManus will never read this, but if you do, sir, Exalted One, please forgive me. But in one paragraph he started five sentences with "He." I'm normally loose on these guidelines, as my crit partners will tell you, but I've gotta draw the line at three "He's" per paragraph.

The other problem I had is the main character, Sheriff Bo Tulley. Somehow all his character traits don't quite mesh. He sorely missed his dead wife but saw himself as irresistible to women, somewhat egotistical (hell I don't even know what that means). The ego made him less likeable. The gig with the Hobo spider living in his office, which Tulley fed flies to, seemed a bit over the top as well. It's as if Pat wanted to keep a piece of his normal comedy, not fully giving his talent to the novel. The two just don't work together.

Like I said, though, the plot was well done and I think he's got great characters who just need a little polishing. I assume he's got another coming in this series. Hopefully, his editor pointed out some of these flaws, not relying completely on Pat's name to carry sales.

I admit it's nice to see shortcomings in someone I look up to. It just goes to show that, no matter the success of a writer, he or she will suffer through the same problems as the rest of us when switching to an entirely different format. By the way, Pat has a book on humor writing as well. It's very good, as are all of his short story collections.

Gotta go, my sister The Troll is on the other line.

No comments: