Friday, February 19, 2010

The Corpse Wore Pasties by Jonny Porkpie (Hard Case Crime)

Victoria Vice is dead. She died on stage (and I don't mean figuratively) doing a burlesque act pilfered from a colleague. The fact that Victoria had a reputation as a performance plagiarist means that everyone on the program that night had a motive, including Jonny Porkpie, self-appointed "Burlesque Mayor of New York City" and the guy running the show that night at Dreamland.

Before you ask, yes this Porkpie is the same fellow that wrote the book The Corpse Wore Pasties. But unlike Kinky Friedman (who always distanced himself from the Kinky Friedman that starred in his mysteries), these two Porkpies are freely admitted to be one and the same. A professional ecdysiast, Jonny Porkpie also runs Pinchbottom with his partner and wife, Nasty Canasta (another burlesque artist and the model for the redhead in the cover painting by Ricky Mujica).

Porkpie's fingerprints were the only ones other than Victoria's found on her prop bottle of "poison" (that turned out to contain the real thing), so after being interrogated by two cops only distinguishable by their accents, he takes it upon himself to play sleuth and question the other artists. This is a rather precarious position to put himself in, given that one of them is a murderer and they all object to being accused/questioned.

In addition to its author's old-time profession (Porkpie wryly proclaims it "the top entertainment ticket of 1939"), The Corpse Wore Pasties is an old-time mystery, a direct descendant of the Agatha Christie despicable-person-is murdered-and-everyone-is-a-suspect school that produced such classics as Murder on the Orient Express and (my favorite) Evil Under the Sun. Look past all the naked characters and sex puns and the mystery is very traditional in its make-up. Porkpie is the epitome of the amateur investigator thrown into a situation where (like Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr, another Christie descendant) he has to solve the crime to clear his own name.

Porkpie keeps thing interesting because he knows there's only so many times you can mention New York before you need a really tense foot chase across the Brooklyn Bridge. And he peoples his novel with larger than life personalities that make for great reading. The names are fictional, but they're based on real burlesquers: Cherries Jubilee (Clams Casino), Jillian Knockers (Jo Boobs), LuLu La Rue (GiGi La Femme, the model for the brunette on the cover), just to name a few. Porkpie and Canasta are featured under their "real" names.

The Corpse Wore Pasties is a hell of a lot of fun, if not in the least bit hardboiled or otherwise noirish, which more than makes up for the otherwise by-the-numbers mystery that follows the Christie law-of-conservation-of-characters rule. It's kind of like an R-rated Murder, She Wrote, and any regular viewer of that show will have the solution figured out long before the unveiling. Porkpie makes the whole mystery-writing thing look easy, and he somehow manages to come across as an innocent despite the fact that he takes his clothes off for a living.

Adding another layer of reality to the proceedings, Porkpie also produced a couple of burlesque shows (called Lurid Pulp) centered around the book release of The Corpse Wore Pasties. In the show, the "characters" in the novel (or their real-life counterparts) object to his portrayal of them in the book and vow revenge. As the promo postcard stated, "Tempers flare, bodices rip, tassels twirl ... and Porkpie ends up dead." Canasta investigates with help from the audience. I imagine if there were more burlesque book release parties, the publishing industry wouldn't be crying woe all the time.

1 comment:

KentAllard said...

Tag. You're it.

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