Read April 2021
Recommended for fans of McDonnell
★ ★ 1/2
While I was a fan of McDonnell’s first book, A Man With One of Those Faces, the follow-up did not work as well. My First Big Clue was an extremely gruesome crime scene, so bad that it had poor Detective Wilson upchucking. Clue Number Two with the chapter two, a rapid “catch the reader up to speed” coupled with adolescent-type dog-poop humor. Making it worse was actual storytelling, which consisted of both narrator and time shifts. I hate to be such a downer, particularly when so many of my friends enjoyed it, but I was never able to overcome the choppiness in narration or tone to really enjoy the story.
I don’t often do gross-jokes at the best of times, but trying to shift gears from someone who has their eyelids cut off to laughing at flinging poop just doesn’t work for me. Once we’re able to leave the sadistic killer behind and focus on Paul’s investigation, it improves somewhat, but periodic peeking into the police investigation has us continually jumping back into that atmosphere. I welcomed Paul’s dialogue with his friends to bring back the sense of fun and cluelessness. Memories of Bunny were particularly amusing:
“What did I always tell you, back in your hurling days?”
“If the ref doesn’t see it, it didn’t happen?”
“Whack it and hope for the best?”
But then McDonnell had to try and get extra humorous and bring some more feces into it: “The woman behind the counter pulled a face like Paul had just shat in her hand and asked her to clap.” I ended up looking up McDonnell’s history, and when I saw he had extensive work as a stand-up comic, it all started to make an unfortunate sort of sense.
A particularly problematic scene is when Bunny uses a particularly vulnerable position (literally) to convince a local politician to listen to his counter-proposal. This scene was very uncomfortable, and not in a good way, as it’s so clearly rooted in fear of sexual assault. Don’t believe me? Try swapping out a character and you’ll see. It was basically another instance of lowest common denominator humor, and it doesn’t play well against a character we’ve known for about five minutes.
So tonal shifts and humor aside, does it work? Only if you like your story broken up into mini-bites. There are fifty-nine chapters, and each chapter is a different point of view. Paul, Brigit, Detective Wilson, a third person with Mavis and Bunny, Councillor Kennedy, Councillor Smyth, Detective Burns, Paddy–and this is only by Chapter 17. Add in that some of these are a few years earlier and some are in the ‘now,’ and I found it to be a challenge to sink into. Add an easily derailed police investigation, an attempt to tie it to Dublin politics and perhaps Irish counter-culture, and it feels like a hot mess.
I did like the shout-outs to nursing (“he’d moved over here a couple of years ago and the nurses considered him good, nurses being the only people who can really tell”) and almost every scene involving either Phil or Dr. Sinha, our chatty E.R. doctor from the first book. They provided that same sweet humor I loved in the first book, and are basically the reason I was able to keep going.
“Oh super,” said Paul, “well, I’ll be docking that from your pay. Seeing as you drove the getaway car for the bloke you were supposed to be following.” “Ye know,” said Phil. “I know you don’t mean it, but your tone can be very hurtful at times.”
I loved the daffy humor of the first, but this did not work at all, either on story or on humor. I’ll be taking a break before taking a peek at the third. My sincerest apologies to buddy readers Nan and William, who enjoyed it far more than I did.