Friday, January 19, 2007

Pg. 69: "…Go To Helena Handbasket"

Donna Moore's debut novel is …Go To Helena Handbasket.

I asked Donna to put her book to the "page 69 test," and here is what she reported:
I opened the book to page 69 (and why is it page 69 I wonder?) with some trepidation. “I bet it’s going to be something stupid” I said to myself. “But Donna, that would be very fitting, since the whole book is stupid” I answered myself, “Now, where is the nice man with my medication?”

‘…Go To Helena Handbasket’ is a send up (affectionate I hope, since I love the genre) of the clich├ęs in crime and mystery fiction – the exceedingly dim heroine who gaily trips down to the basement without a torch, the bonkers serial killer with an outrageous signature, the PI who gets beaten up 17 times before breakfast and still manages to drink a bottle of scotch and sleep with beautiful women, the crime solving cat, the psycho sidekick etc.

I had great fun writing it, and am extremely grateful that there was someone out there demented enough to publish it. I feel very lucky.

But back to page 69. Helena Handbasket, really quite useless PI, has been hired by Owen Banks to look into…well, actually to look into a freezer box containing his brother’s hands. He knows they are his brother’s hands because the knuckles are tattooed with his name – Robin Banks. Handy, you might say. On page 69, Helena has two unwelcome guests, sisters Aurora de Greasepaint and Smilla daCrowde. One’s talkative, one’s silent. Both are unpleasant. And they have some information.

“Oh no, Miss Handbasket.” Aurora deGreasepaint smiled slyly at me. “Is that what he told you? No, the last time Smilla and I saw Banks was a month ago. In a hotel at Heathrow airport.”

“Which one?”

“The Travelodge. He always was a cheap bastard.”

“No . . . which Banks brother?”

“Actually . . . both of them.” She leaned back, an expression of spiteful glee on her face. “Together.” Hers was an expression you could imagine Barbie having if Ken had just dumped her, and she’d gone round his house to have it out with him and he’d answered the door wearing one of her negligees.

The two sisters have a story for Helena. Or, as Helena’s secretary and self-appointed psycho sidekick, Fifi Fofum (who speaks in nothing but 40s hardboiled slang) refers to it, “a jingle brained tale of dipsy doodle.”

I tried to remain calm. “And may I ask exactly why you’ve come to see me?”

“Apart from to threaten you and add some much needed tension?” Aurora deGreasepaint stood up, and was swiftly followed by her silent sister. Aurora leaned over the desk and put her face close to mine. Smilla followed suit. One or both of them had eaten garlic the night before. Lots of it. “Stay away bitch.” The words came out with all the speed and venom of an arrow dipped in curare. “Stay away from Owen Banks, and stay away from the jewels. They’re both mine. And if you stick that big, interfering nose into my business any more, I’ll chop it off and feed it to my fish.” With that, Hannibal Lecter Barbie and her sister Harpo Marx Barbie turned and walked away.

“I do not have that big a nose. And don’t slam the—”

So, page 69 shows Helena’s cluelessness, as well as her preoccupation with the size of her nose; there are stupid names, threats, reference to jewels which are a plot point. I also hadn’t realised that there are quite a few characters in the book who smell weird, so that was a bizarre revelation from doing this exercise. Then there’s a recurring broken door theme and…well, I was right. It IS a stupid passage.

Fascinating. Thank you for inviting me to take part even though it demonstrates that I need some form of counselling!
Many thanks to Donna for the input.

Read the first chapter of …Go To Helena Handbasket.

Among the praise for …Go To Helena Handbasket:
"Ms. Moore's clever idea was to introduce into the plot every cliche of mystery fiction you could ever encounter, and if she over looked one, I don't know what it was. You have your serial killer, your psycho sidekick, your cars that explode when someone (never the owner) turns the ignition key, etc. It's all played for laughs, and there's one on every page. Actually, more than one. If you need a good laugh, you don't want to miss this book."
--Bill Crider

"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 deliriously intoxicating.... 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 desperate 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

"The double Nevermore Award winning Moore has a deft and delightful way of twisting cliches and wringing every last bit of satire, wit, and humor out of them."
--Bryon Quertermous

"Bridget Jones meets Raymond Chandler meets Jeffrey Dahmer in …Go To Helena Handbasket, Donna Moore's brilliant absurd romp of a detective novel. Kudos to PointBlank Press for unearthing yet another gem.”
--Jason Starr, author of Lights Out
A must-read: Sarah Weinman's "Donna Moore Appreciation Day."

Kevin Burton Smith named …Go To Helena Handbasket to January Magazine's Best of Crime Fiction 2006 list.

Elaine Flinn put Donna "On the Bubble" at Murderati with this introduction:
Ken Bruen has called her 'The Dorothy Parker of Scotland'! Who's gonna argue with him? Charlie Stella said - 'It's like having Groucho Marx feeding you one-liners over your shoulder the entire trip.' I ain't gonna argue with Charlie either. GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET is one of the funniest books to come out in a long time. And I especially loved Reed Farrel Coleman's - 'Sam Spade in a skirt on acid.'
Previous "page 69 tests:"
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue