Posts Tagged ‘RJ McDonnell’

Rocktober3This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

When author RJ McDonnell dropped me a note, I was more than thrilled to hear from him. I’d seen his name around in certain circles and since he writes about a dude who used to be in band, and since his first mystery, Rock and Roll Homicide.

Not the sexiest title out there, but I love the cover shot of a Fender Strat that’s been splattered with blood. Even though the dead guy dies in the preface, and I doubt any residue would make such a lovely pattern on a white strat, it doesn’t matter. And if it did, there’s so much good stuff going on here.

I’m not sure where to start, really, other than to say I loved this tale. I loved the main character, Jason Duffy. I loved his quirky cast of mentally disabled people and helpmeets. I loved Duffy’s narrative voice; it has total character. I loved his dad and the veteran, grizzled cop and the computer geek dude who never wants to use his names.

Maybe we should back up. Our intrepid hero, Jason Duffy, hasn’t been in business very long when he gets a visit from the very wealthy Chelsea Tucker. It turns out it’s her husband’s brains that have been spattered across the aforementioned guitar — among other things. It seems her husband is the famous — but contentious — Terry Tucker, frontman and business genius behind Doberman’s Stub, a band rocketing to the top — and currently recording their third album. This is the one that’s going to push them up to that coveted peak. Everyone knows it.

That’s why Terry was killed, it turns out. He put on a pair of headphones (conveniently given to him by his wife. What a loving woman.) and … kablooey!

The wife needs Jason’s help to clear her name. And Jason dives right in, encountering the Russian Mafia, the Irish Mafia, Orangemen, half-naked women, photographers with Tourette’s Syndrome, and a whole laundry list of surprises and twists and turns that even a experienced knitter couldn’t unravel.

Needless to say, McDonnell pulls it off. Neatly, I might add. And with no small dose of humor — particularly the scene where Jason goes sneaking around a shower. Trust me. It’s the best scene in a good book.

Now, you know I can’t write a review without talking about the downers, and there were some, of course. I’ve yet to read a book without them.

In Rock and Roll Homicide, there are two big ones. First is that the cast of characters is huge. Quirky and well-drawn, sure. But it’s big. Big casts can get confusing, and alliteration never helps. Oh, I’m not talking about the way in which half the characters have Russian names. See above about the Russian mafia.
Rather, there are an awful lot of women whose names start with the letter J. A lot of people with the first initial of C.

It’s a shame, really. These characters are all given such delicious quirks and characters, and then to confuse us with the similar names… talk about torture.

The other issue is bigger. Like an increasing number of books of late, the editing could have been better. Not just punctuation, which I’m a stickler for after spending so many years as a copy editor. Sentences could have been tightened or rewritten for maximum reader impact. Frankly, I’d love to get my hands on future books from McDonnell and have a go at it. He’s got so many elements right. He’s got a great hero, with a great voice. And his rock? It rolls, baby. This guy knows his stuff, all right.

I’ve got McDonnell’s second book here, waiting for me to read it, too. Rock & Roll Rip-Off, it’s called. All I gotta say is that it’ll be a ripoff if there’s no third book in the works.

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

I was a huge fan of RJ McDonnell’s first book, Rock and Roll Homicide. It’s a definite West of Mars recommended read; there’s so much great stuff happening in it.

So I was excited when I was told by friends that RJ’s second book, Rock and Roll Rip-Off was even better.

The plot certainly was. It’s clever: our friend Jason Duffy is hired to recover a stolen memorabilia collection. That’s not so clever, maybe, although it most certainly is unique (and I love unique). It’s the details — and in McDonnell’s world, it is ALL about the details — that set this story apart. The collector is a good guy who relied on his collections, culled from friends he’s made over the years, to make up for his paltry salary as a studio musician. He’s got college tuition to pay for; he’d been relying on being able to sell off certain items to make the payments. His friends who help supply his collection know what the score is. They support him, making this a refreshing turn in an age of celebrities who won’t sign autographs lest they show up on eBay.

The folk behind the heist aren’t your ordinary bad guys, either. In fact, the one main character, a woman, introduces one heck of a moral story: how far will you go for someone you love? To what end will you go to realize your dreams?

To McDonnell’s credit, he doesn’t dwell on these moral issues. Good thing; he’s too busy letting Jason, Jeannine, and Shamansky — along with Dad Jim (oy, the names that start with the same letter… including in this book, a John) — do their thing. When this team gets going (complete with Tourette’s sufferer Cory), there’s nothing that will stand in their way. Even assassins can’t get one over on Jason; he’s just too slick.

One of the strengths of this series is each character’s particular quirks. Jason’s the most sane of the lot; he’s our steady influence. Shamansky’s a foodie hiding behind a gruff cop exterior, Dad Jim is possibly the only likeable bigot on the planet, Jeannine is locked into a world defined by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Each of these characters lives and breathes.

In short, McDonnell is a master at creating characters. He’s got great plot ideas, and no one can doubt he knows his rock and roll world.

So why isn’t this guy a household name? He should be. He’s solid in all these areas, including plot tension and the need to know what comes next. Really. What’s the issue?

I mentioned some rough editing when I reviewed Rock and Roll Homicide. In Rip-Off, it got worse. Oh, the cymbals are still symbols, and the one character drives a Camero. Those are annoying, of course. But in this book, the major problem is a tendency to slip into present tense. It is almost as if McDonnell were leaving notes for himself — notes he forgot to incorporate into the prose.

This is where I go nuts. McDonnell’s got the story. He’s got the bad guys, some of whom are truly awful and some who are likeable. In Rip-Off, these characters prove my oft-repeated mantra that desperate people do dumb things. It’s fun to watch them mess up, even as we’re rooting for them to come clean and make right by the victim.

Best of all, because they are so real, Jason and company linger beyond the end of the story. I’m anxious to read a third book featuring them. I love the twists and turns, the way McDonnell escalates the action and the ante for his core characters. I love the well-placed harmonica and how real it is when Jason needles his father and makes his mother play peacemaker. I love the music world and how McDonnell incorporates it and brings us inside it.

If I could take an author along with me on my rock and roll journey, it would most likely be McDonnell. He’s got the right blend that I’m looking for — making the people who inhabit this often-seeming glamorous world into ordinary folk. He brings them down to a human level, and he avoids the usual cliches as he does so.

This, folks, is what rock and roll fiction ought to be about. Focus on that, ignore the typos that make this ex-copy editor wish she could take a pass through the next Jason Duffy book, and have yourself some rockin’ fun.