A Man Named Doll by Jonathan Ames — a Punk Noir Book Review by Scott Cumming

Punk Noir Magazine

Jonathan Ames is no stranger to crime and noir with the likes of Bored to Death and You’re Not Really Here behind him, but now he begins his foray into a P.I. series starring ex-Navy and LAPD officer Happy “Hank” Doll. Hank gets high, walks his dog, George and occasionally takes on a case or two.

 

In “A Man Named Doll”, Hank’s buddy, Lou, wants to buy his kidney with his single remaining one crapping out on him. Between a tussle at his massage parlour security gig and Lou turning up near dead on his doorstep, Doll finds himself dragged into a situation he can’t wisecrack his way out of.

 

The influences are stamped front and centre with Chandler, Pynchon and Chinatown in full view. There’s almost nothing new here, but for the tone. Noir is typically about dark men with dark outlooks on the world, but Doll is refreshing in that he’s taken therapy and has a clear enough outlook on the world around him. He’s not cut off by cynicism instead inhabiting a colourful existence that wouldn’t look out of place in a noir directed by Wes Anderson with the comical interjections and casting opportunities to match the aesthetic.

 

The second entry, “The Wheel of Doll”, forthcoming in September, builds upon and shows new depths to Doll as he goes on the hunt for a lost love at the behest of her daughter. The voice shines in this entry, perhaps even more upbeat than before in the early going as Doll has turned to Buddhism to help him through the ailments of the first novel.

 

Happy is the rare P.I. who sits on the other side of his problems. His tussles with weird and desperate villains, who appear as almost caricatures, are taking years off his life. The bizarre nature of his enemies does not tarnish the stories and instead heightens things to match the memorable nature of our protagonist.

 

I have never received so many comments as I did when I rated the first book, which shows the immediate popularity of the character and I hope we continue to see him for many years to come given he is one of the most refreshing characters to come along in years. Maybe this isn’t the socially aware crime fiction that some would like, but there are plenty others out there fulfilling that need. These novels are a much needed escape from the doom mongering and negativity that have become our stock in trade.