Written on: 06/12/2002 by Ryan Carroll.
You won't like it if you don't like over-the-top humour.
Steve Kelly's humorous novel "Rastus Reilly (or Hammett, Dickens, Lovecraft, Laurel, and Hardy on Bad Acid)" is a laugh out loud pleaser. I've just read this book a second time and am making a point of recommending it to my friends and to everybody reading here. This is a very crazy novel. In fact it's not so much a novel as a satire of novels. The author gets you interested in the story but there's some kind of gag on every page, so Kelly's book manages to mock every novel-writing convention, in the process of mocking itself. "The Maltese Falcon" is lampooned, as are H.P. Lovecraft's, and to a lesser extent Dickens's work specifically, but the humor ranges widely beyond just these targets. It's a sharp, but essentially good-natured, and unique, brand of humor. I'll never forget these patently ripe characters: a Sam Spade type, Jake Stalker, who seems to be coming out of the closet, Lucretia Faversham, elderly dowager, in search of rejuvenation while revelling in all the common vices, Veronica Volupturini, globe-trotting golddigger, Haggie the gin-swilling receptionist, Rastus Reilly himself, whose mere description is hilariously unforgettable, and a larger congregation of strangely loveable misfits Kelly describes bluntly as "lowlife swine." They're rather sweet swine, though, and that's part of what makes them funny. One character's impossibly long surname evokes conversational byplay that puts Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" to shame: this alone would make the book worth its price, but the laughs keep coming, from every direction. Bizarre characterization is certainly a strong point. The setting is Boston, Massachusetts, and a treasure-hunting cruise from there to the Caribbean, in the 1930s. Pacing is leisurely at first but the story builds to an adventurous conclusion. The tone can best be described as ridiculous. The writing style parodies numerous styles, as suggested by the subtitle, and manages to do this not just effectively, but fluidly as well: Kelly is a genuinely talented writer. The plot is simply a framework for laughter. The good guys, led by old lady Faversham and her hired gun Jake Stalker, have found out there is an ancient Secret of Eternal Youth, and they're chasing after it, hotly pursued by a fat and skinny pair of archly evil bad guys. I said this was a very crazy book. So if you like Crazy you'll love it. I did, enough to read it all over again, six months after my first reading, and I picked up on jokes I'd missed the first time. A+ for humor.
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