Saturday, 29 December 2012

Sad Jingo - Ron Dionne

Jingo Dalhousie is a troubled wannabe musician who works as a janitor in his cousin’s New York jazz club. He finds his unusual name in a highly successful debut novel and feels driven to track the author down and discover why. However, the author has a secret she’s desperate to keep.

Sad Jingo opens with the protagonist, Jingo Dalhousie, being given a book that, mysteriously, has his name in it. Jingo cannot understand why and decides to track down debut author, Diana Medeiros. By night, he works as a janitor in a club surrounded by jazz musicians, something he aspires to be. The club is owned by his cousin, Harold. By day, he lives in a small flat, attempting to write and play music.

Jingo first goes to Diana’s publishers and then to a signing. There is a huge queue to see Diana, the book is a smash hit. Jingo finally gets to the front and questions her. Diana has no idea who he is and Jingo gets thrown out of the store without any answers. It’s worth saying that to reach this point in the plot I had to plough through 25% of the book – 15,000 words…

The focus then shifts to Diana. We learn she used to be a patient at a mental hospital and perhaps she knew Jingo there? But she cannot remember. Jingo for his own part continues to be obsessed with Diana. He appears at a reading and has a brief conversation with her before being beaten up by a guard and ends up in hospital.

Despite Diana’s reservations, she meets Jingo again and he plays for her in the club, the one time he manages to string together a decent piece of music. But Harold loses control of the business and Jingo is out of a job.

As Diana gets closer to Jingo (primarily because her problem mirrors his) she begins to admit her terrible secret is catching up with her.

If the above sounds a less than exciting summary, I apologise but there was little to get animated about in Sad Jingo. Where to begin? Well, there’s a mass of bland characters, some described, some not (it took me several thousand words to realise Jingo is a man in his sixties, well I think he is). Many of these featureless characters have ridiculous names which are used repeatedly, and often in full, instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ making the reading a challenge. Jingo and Diana take turns in engaging in long periods of introspective internal dialogue supposedly to help us understand them better. However, this meant it took 25% of the book to achieve three key activities, as I mentioned.

In the early chapters there’s excessive use of punctuation interrupting what little plot flow there is (I was shocked to read an acknowledgement to a copy editor). Some paragraphs are a page or more long and the formatting is not great.

There are other problems – past and present tense are mixed together in the same paragraph on several occasions. The dialogue is often white noise and generally meaningless, dull and barely moves the tale along, like listening to clucking hens. Sentences are regularly horribly mangled with repeated usage of the same word – just two examples comprise:

‘…author of a book about her book but had not read the book.’

‘…what’s wrong with that, what’s wrong with that Harold, tell me a single thing that’s wrong with that?’

In the final chapter Jingo learns Diana has killed herself and, after 62,000 words, I felt like following her…

Rating? 1 Star

Would I add this to my bookshelf? Absolutely not!

**Originally published on Books & Pals blog ( May have received free review copy**

Friday, 28 December 2012

Review - Setup on Front Street by Mike Dennis

Don Roy Doyle has just been released from prison after a stretch for his part in a diamond robbery. He arrives in Key West to get his hands on the $200,000 share of the proceeds that’s rightfully his. His attempt to wrestle the money away from his ex-partner in crime, Frankie Sullivan, opens a series of Pandora’s boxes and everyone, from the FBI to the police to the Russian mafia and local politicians, are after him in case he reveals the truth of what really happened to the cash.

It’s 1991. Don Roy Doyle, a hustler and con artist, is just out of prison after a seven year stretch and he has the scars to prove it. He was jailed for his part in a jewel heist, the only gang member that took the fall. In the opening chapter Doyle steps off a bus to arrive back in Key West and settle a few more scores, in particular he wants his $200,000 share of the robbery proceeds. He wastes no time and immediately confronts Frankie Sullivan (Sully) a nightclub owner and partner in the original scam. Sully, however, has ‘invested’ the money in a dubious property deal with the Russians mafia and cannot immediately access it. Doyle gives him a week to do so or expect the worst.

After leaving Sully, Doyle spends subsequent chapters reacquainting himself with characters from his past – Avi Abraham a weapons supplier, BK the mayor and ex-classmate, Ortega the local police officer who threatens to send Doyle back to prison should he step out of line and Mambo DeLima a Cuban criminal. Then Sully ends up dead and Doyle is in the frame for his murder.

And herein lies one of the problems with this novel - new characters pop up almost every chapter through literally the first half of the book (and one or two in the latter half as well) including BK’s patriarchal father, Wilson J Whitney, and Doyle’s ex-girlfriend Norma who’s turning tricks for BK (she immediately becomes his current girlfriend), BK’s needy wife Rita, and a variety of Russian gangsters among quite a few others. Unfortunately, the time spent introducing characters, their past relationship to Doyle and / or the crime, means the rest of the plot feels crammed into the second half primarily because Setup on Front Street is relatively short at 50,000 words. So little space is left to fully explore the plot. For example Ortega the policeman is only made reference to once more in passing, FBI special agent Ryder appears then shifts to the background until it’s time, all too soon and all too easily, to take down the bad guys (helped by yet another character introduced to help Doyle get the information he needs).

That being said, Setup on Front Street was an enjoyable read, the story skipped along at a decent pace and the characters, despite there being so many, were in the main colourful and entertaining. The plot is set against an interesting historical backdrop - the locals are convinced Castro is about to fall and Cuba will be a fantastic opportunity for a new criminal gold rush that is about to begin and the various factions want a piece of the action.

Rating? 3 Stars.

Would I add this to my bookshelf? Yes.

**Originally published on Books & Pals blog ( May have received free review copy**