I remember reading an interview with Bruce Campbell years ago about how easy it had become to make indie movies thanks to digital cameras and accessible editing software. He said something along the lines of, “On the upside, anyone can make a movie. On the downside, anyone can make a movie.” The same predicament exists in the modern book industry. Thanks to the flourishing of print-on-demand publishing, companies and the prominence of e-readers anyone can write a book and release it publicly with negligible cost. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a tidal wave of awful books in horribly tacky genres like paranormal romance, new age healing, erotica, and me-too Harry Potter wannabes (which really has become a genre in and of itself). Luckily, new cheap publishing venues have also helped facilitate a resurgence of books from niche genres that would traditionally have had a hard time finding themselves in the hands of readers. Pulp crime novels – a type of book I happen to love – certainly fall into that category. Ten years ago getting a pulp novel published was next to impossible, but now you can discover newly released pulp simply by firing up your e-reader and typing in a few keywords. O’Leary’s Luck is exactly the kind of book that might pop up in one of those searches.
O’Leary’s Luck, written by Teel James Glenn, falls somewhere between short story and novella. For this kind of story brevity works fantastically. You want something easy, fast, exciting, and a little grimy. The first pages of the story give the sense that the author will deliver on these points. You have a New Orleans race-yard junkie loser in the wrong place at the wrong time gunned down for overhearing something sinister. There to witness this, of course, is our protagonist: Jon Shadows. Shadows makes his living as a body guard and has become world-worn in the process. In this case, Shadows has dropped by the town to enjoy Mardi Gras accompanied with a beautiful performer he met previously named Flora. She turns out to be tangled up in the drama they witnessed and Jon’s vacation quickly tuns into a job. A murder, a mystery, a manly protagonist with a silly name, and a damsel in distress – this is getting good.
Some well executed characterization can be found in O’Leary’s Luck. You get a sense of O’Leary’s life and motivations which makes him a pretty sympathetic character when he’s killed in the first few pages of the story. The violence feels less random and pointless, and makes you root for Shadows to get to the bottom of the whole ordeal. A little background on Shadows himself makes him somewhat more interesting than the typical protagonist in these kinds of books. You learn a bit about his looks, his family, and how he feels about himself, which influences how you feel about him. Little moments like these are wonderful and essential for an indie book to become something that sticks out from the crowd.
Unfortunately, things start looking down a bit from here. The amateurish writing starts to become painfully apparent as the story progresses. The author, Teel James Glenn, has a tendency to not only break some basic rules of grammar – like getting it’s and its confused a handful of times – but to repeat the same word in a sentence or paragraph until you almost feel like you’re getting slapped in the face by it. Take, for example, this line from the story: “I wasn’t sure if I should try to make myself invisible or just flat out run for my life but that’s never how I’ve run my life; I generally run toward the sound of gunfire.” The run-on sentence combined with the repetition of the word “run” is enough to give the reader whiplash. If these issues only popped up in the story occasionally looking over it would be easy. But this line reads the way most of the book does. Not horrible, but strange enough to be a off-putting and to slow or stop the flow of reading.
The tone of the book is also somewhat of a mess. Everything feels a little too PG for a hard boiled pulp. Throughout the fifty three page story Shadows says “heck” instead of “hell,” talks about feeling like a kid at Disney World, and tells his date, Flora, about how he was a full grown man before he could grow peach fuzz on his lip. He also spends some socially awkward time with Flora’s mother. Nothing is inherently wrong with these things, but it certainly does not work well in a genre associated with violence and exploitation. Characters from the book talk like the forties or fifties even though the story takes place in modern times, which adds to the weirdness. No one calls anyone a “songstress” or uses the phrase “dandy of bygone days” anymore.
The Coup de grâce for O’Leary’s Luck occurs when enjoyable campiness evolves into bizarre cheesiness. For example, Shadows describes a fight in the book as “impromptu breakdancing,”. I had to set down my e-reader when Jon Shadows – the books supposed lead badass – says, “Some things are better the old way and some the new. At least that’s what my mom would say as she made me do traditional Ninja workouts when I wanted to play baseball.” I was dumbfounded when I first read it, and I remain so now. That line, and a few like it throughout the book, left me with the impression of Jon Shadows as a Napoleon Dynamite type character.
O’Leary’s Luck is disappointing not because it stinks, but because it falls just short of being a marvelously enjoyable pulp story and instead succumbs to the common pitfalls of indie books. With some stringent editing and a little rethinking of a few story elements I would not hesitate to recommend the purchase to fans of the genre. As it exists now, though, O’Leary’s Luck stands just a little above average in the giant heap of self-published books.
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