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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
Requiem for the Puppet Master - D.J.   Murphy

So...the story behind the story.

My mom gifted me this book months, erm, like, a year ago. Not sure exactly why she read it, but possibly because the author had an El Paso connection. Mom notes that the book was the fulfillment of the author's lifelong dream to be published, but unfortunately, he passed away a few months after it hit the virtual shelves.

Which is sad, not just because he's pushing up daisies and all, but because Mr. Murphy was a good writer. The writing, in particular, the voice, is filled with the wry, observational-type humor I love. Probably because the author put a lot of himself into his character, to the point where his inner ruminations read a little like a grumpy, but funny, old man. (It's never made clear, but Grady Harrison is probably in his late 30s to 40.)

I used to be Catholic. You gotta be a little nuts to be Catholic too. You gotta kid yourself and not take things too seriously. You gotta hang on to what you like and not be put off when you see people screwing things up. I like incense and Gregorian chant and Latin masses. But they had to go and screw that up. The preachers drove me out. The vernacular drove me out. Religion is a mysterious business. In English the mystery is gone. The preacher are idiots, pedophiles, alcoholics.

The setting, mostly in Iowa, on the Mississippi River, where the Grady Harrison lives on his boat the Anna Christie, is brought to vivid life through the author's description. The kind of description that says that the writer knows the place intimately; well enough to see the good, bad and irritating. In tone, the novel is a mix of cozy and intrigue, a little Chandler-esque, with a soupcon of cyberpunk.

Despite all the positives, the novel couldn't hold my attention for any length of time and took me for-evah to finish. I hung in there largely because it was a gift from my mummy and I felt an obligation.

Consequently, my recollection of the various plot twists (and it's twisty, bendy) is fuzzy. Grady Harrison is a successful psychologist, the inventor of a computer therapist named Garbo. But life dealt him a horrible blow a few years ago, when his daughter and wife were killed in a car accident. He has since retreated from everything, spending his days cruising up and down the Mississippi on his boat.

Until "the redhead" strolls onto his boat. Peg is the mom of an out-of-control adolescent, Brian. Brian, according to Peg, is responsible for several high-profile deaths, deaths that appear to have been due to natural causes. Grady, lured out of his pathos by a pretty woman, agrees to help her find Brian and stop him before he kills again.

The trail leads to a facility for troubled youths where Brian lived for a time, and eventually connects to a larger plot involving a rogue CIA agent, advanced weaponry (a deadly toxin that can be applied with a squirt gun), and tech that literally programs humans to be assassins.

The novel's primary weakness is that it's overwritten, sliding too far into "cozy," and lavishing too much screen time on Grady's day-to-day activities and pointless side jaunts.

On the other hand, the women in Grady's life aren't shrinking violets, and Peg pretty much evolves into a bad-ass, the hero who saves the day. To some extent, Grady is more of a passive observer in the latter part of the story. So, yay! Girl power!

No, Requiem for the Puppet Master wasn't exactly my cuppa. I like my mystery either light and silly, or pitch-black gritty. Recommended, however, to readers of authors like Robert B. Parker. (In his afterward, the author cites Robert Parker as an influence.)

R.I.P. D.J. Murphy