The Awful Truth About The Herbert Quarry Affair
About the Book:
With a jangle of keys, a door opened. Herbert clanked in, his arms locked to his sides, his ankles shackled, his face a Hannibal Lecter mask. He was overjoyed to see me.
“Marco, I’m jailed day and night with murderous thugs who can’t tell Schiller from Shakespeare. I’m desperate for intellectual stimulus—but you’ll do for now.”
TV personality Marco Ocram is the world’s only self-penned character, writing his life in real time as you read it. Marco’s celebrity mentor, Herbert Quarry, grooms him to be the Jackson Pollock of literature, teaching him to splatter words on a page without thought or revision.
Quarry’s plan backfires when imbecilic Marco begins to type his first thought-free book: it’s a murder mystery—and Herbert’s caught red-handed near the butchered body of his lover.
Now Marco must write himself into a crusade to clear his friend’s name. Typing the first words that come into his head, Marco unleashes a phantasmagorical catalogue of twists in his pursuit of justice, writing the world’s fastest-selling book to reveal the awful truth about the Herbert Quarry affair.
Recently I read a book in a similar vein, and that’s why I requested to participate in this blog tour. What an absolute delight to read a book in which the 4th wall collapses on the first page. It’s purposely cheesy, bumbling, and is deprecating and incredibly amusing. We have an author who has penned an author writing this story as we read it.
At the start of each chapter, we see discussions between our narrator, Marco, and his mentor Herbert. Those brief discussions set the tone for the chapter that follows. The charm of the book lies in Marco’s bumbling incompetence that somehow seems to get things done. Ocram sets up multiple veins of investigating, leaving us to wonder where they will go and how they will all connect to proving Herbert’s innocence.
“Their glassy stares were glassy for a reason-their eyes were glass.”
I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud reading this because of sentences just like that. The inept writer attempting to write a book without any forethought shows the brilliance of Ocram laying out this book for the readers. I cannot recommend it enough.
A few more favorite quotes:
(I may have swiped this image from the author’s Twitter page)
Denis Shaughnessy is the author of the Awful Truth series of surreal comedies which introduce a new way of writing fiction. The supposed author, Marco Ocram, seems to be inventing the stories in real time as he appears as a self-invented character, sharing with the reader many of his immediate thoughts about his writing. In The Awful Truth about the Herbert Quarry Affair, Marco begins the story with news that his mentor, Herbert, has been caught red-handed in what seems to be a brutal murder. This extract, in which Marco and Lieutenant Como Galahad meet the pathologist working on the case, contains some typical Ocramisms…
I followed Como in a trance to 276 West 24th Street where a sign said Clarkesville County Pathology Center.
Como led me into reception where we completed the tedious formalities to record the start of our visit. I followed him through a warren of corridors to a laboratory in which I, as a scientist, felt at home after the alien surroundings of police HQ. My expert eye roved over the room, clocking various types of scientific equipment far too specialized for me to describe without holding us all up. We passed between the benches to where someone was attacking a side of pork with a harpoon. Hearing our steps, she turned to face us. Before I had a chance to pad out a few lines by describing her appearance, bearing and manner of dress, Como introduced her.
“This is Doctor Flora Moran—Chief Forensic Scientist. She’s a specialist in knife crime.” Como pronounced her name with an emphasis on the last syllable, as if to avoid it sounding like Flora Moron. “This is Marco Ocram.”
I held out a hand.
“The Marco Ocram?”
I gave a modest nod to show the beautiful pathologist I was indeed the Marco Ocram, the scientist and TV personality renowned for his bold theories about the tau muon. We exchanged various pleasantries too humdrum to document, the gist of which being that Flora Moran was thrilled and delighted to find me there. Como cut it short by asking Flora to summarize her provisional findings.
“The body is female, mid-teens. The blood group, DNA, appearance, hair color, eye color, dental configuration and other distinguishing features match those of Lola Kellogg, who disappeared on the day the corpse was discovered. The rare Japanese cooking knife with which the corpse was dismembered matches a set of rare Japanese cooking knives in Herbert Quarry’s kitchen. Herbert Quarry’s DNA and fingerprints are all over the corpse. There are distinctive handprints on the sections of corpse showing where the body had been held steady as it was cut up, and the prints match those of Herbert Quarry.”
I digested the implications of Flora’s words—whoever framed Herbert knew what they were doing. I asked if I could inspect the corpse.
“Of course. The body is in the top drawer of the freezer,” she said. “The head, arms and legs are in the next drawer down.”
I almost fainted at my first peek inside the drawer. I’d invented poor Lola’s sensational death without a thought; now, confronted with its hideous reality, I was overcome by regret—not to mention squeamishness and the need to find a toilet. My blood seemed to have run off for a long weekend with my feet. Bucking the downward trend, my stomach was trying to climb out of my mouth. I cast desperate eyes around the lab for a chaise longue upon which I might swoon, and a brandy decanter to supply an antidote.
“You OK, Writer? You’re looking a bit grey.”
“I’m fine thank you, Como, just a little tired after all the excitement.”
I pulled myself almost together. If I was going to make a career of writing dramatic true-crime novels, I would need to master my weaknesses. Imagining myself a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, icily detached and objective, I removed the contents of the drawers and laid them upon a table.
I inspected the various parts with a scientist’s eye and my rusty magnifying glass—sorry, my trusty magnifying glass—taking care not to contaminate the evidence with ash from my pipe. Nothing escaped my gaze. I deduced that Lola had received a pedicure and manicure shortly before she died—there had been little nail growth since the distinctive opalescent varnish had been applied. I also noticed she had no unusual birthmark on her right heel. Yes, that’s right—I said no birthmark. I even checked it twice to be sure, just in case it became important later in the book.
Removing my heavy plaid Ulster, I donned surgical gloves to examine the poor victim’s head. Dr Moran was an expert in knife crime, so it was possible her professional bias might cause her to overlook other important signs. Yes, it was just as I expected: there was a slight softness to the right of the sigmoid talmata, a little-known area of the skull found only in the most advanced anatomical textbooks.
Having found nothing else of note, I curtailed my examination before the readers had time to realize a frozen head would have no soft spots. I pulled off the gloves and dropped them in a bin, signifying that we had just disposed of several paragraphs of trashy prose.
“Thank you, Doctor Moran. I’m sure your observations have been entirely conclusive. May I?” I raised my iPad to show I meant to take photographs.
I took a number of closeups of the individual parts, then arranged them on a table for an overall shot.
“And if I could just get a couple with the two of you in the background to show to my mom…lovely…move together a bit…smile …”
Curtailing the description of my photographic activities, I caught Como’s eye and twitched my head to say I needed to speak with him outside.
“What?” he said, after we’d asked Flora to let us know when her final report was ready, said goodbye, left the forensic lab, wound our way back through the offices, got into our respective cars and driven to a remote layby where we wouldn’t be overheard.
“Someone hit Lola on the back of her head before she died.”
“A thousand per cent. There was a distinctive softness behind the tabloid stigmata— just where you’d hit someone if you wanted to knock them out without doing obvious damage.”
“Okay. I buy that. What d’you think she was hit with?”
I brought up the photos I’d taken, swiping through to the closeups. “I’d say something with a bit of weight to it, but no sharp edges. Cylindrical maybe. Long enough to get a decent swing.”
“You know what you’ve just described, Writer?”
I hadn’t given it a thought.
“A baseball bat? A rolling pin? A frozen roll of puff pastry?”
“Maybe. But what about this for an idea—what if you made it a police nightstick?”