Danny MacAlpine

Created by Peter A. MacArthur

Another horny Montreal P.I.?

In the oddly adolescent novel Fat Jack (2005), ex-fighter turned private eye DANNY MacALPINE drinks a lot of Scotch, blathers on and on about himself and how he's just a lonely guy looking for love.

Oh, and occasionally he tries to prevent the mob from bumping off his wealthy client Fat Jack, an overweight business man with sleazy morals who farts constantly.

And Fat Jack's not even the most charming character in the book. Not by a long shot.

There's no one particularly likable here -- they're all overwrought, over-the-top cartoons. Jack's extended family, which must also be protected, includes assorted in-laws, a wife, children and a mistress. They're all about as disagreeable a group of people as you could find. And they have plenty of company in this book.

There's a morose, lovesick gay man; a nymphomaniac who throws herself at Danny; a drunken old lech who berates his wife (to her face) as "dead weight" and loudly considers her (much younger) replacement; a thuggish detective who harasses teenage boys for kicks and a wide variety of randy and uniformly unpleasant satyrs who apparently can't keep it zipped. And the amount of racist, misogynist and homophobic comments swapped back and forth in this volume, mostly unchallenged, verges on parody. Most Montrealers, no matter how they think or feel, do not speak publicly this way. At least in 2005.

But the most obnoxious and unlikable character of them all may be MacAlpine himself. He betrays no real knowledge of police procedure, the law or even how real people think and act. One woman wants him desperately and boasts of "salivating in the strangest places;" another -- whom he's not interested in -- is dismissed as a "crazy bitch." This guy's way with women makes Mike Hammer look like Cary Grant.

He lives in a vibrant, multicultural city where the majority speak Fench, but his knowledge of French (or even the acknowledgement of any other culture) seems conspicuously absent (it's probably no coincidence that MacAlpine's Montreal seems to consist almost entirely of the West End, Westmount and downtown; all generally safe Anglo enclaves). His partner in Leclair and MacAlpine Investigations, Benny Leclair -- one of the few Francophones in the book -- is barely present, a worry wart family man with a passel of mouths to feed (of course) who generally takes orders from Danny and then disappears for most of the book.

I'm not saying all the characters in a book have to be likeable, but they do have to be believable and interesting. The author's unsuccessful attempts to make his characters more memorable by bestowing obvious nicknames on them ("Fat Jack," "Horny Tom," "Nutsy McQuire," "Leo the Lip," "Crazy Shirley," etc.) just highlight how one-dimensional they really are.

The blurb calls the book "detective fiction with a twist: frank, explicit and emotionally honest."

It's none of those things. It is, however, inconsistently edited and awkward. A good copy editor would have pared down the repetitions and over-writing; a good story editor would have pared down the story itself.

I keep hoping a new Montreal P.I. will come along and knock my socks off. Danny MacAlpine is not him. Disappointing, to say the least.

MacArthur, born and raised in Montreal's West End, has served in the army, practised martial arts, jumped horses and supervised a shop specializing in repair and maintenance of auxiliary equipment for the Canadian Navy. He's the author of one previous book, West End Gang (2002).

WEIRD PERSONAL TRIVIA

  • I used to work in the same building in which Fat Jack's publisher, Price Patterson Ltd., was located.

NOVELS

RELATED LINKS

A listing of Montréal eyes.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Keith for the lead (and the book).


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