DRAWING DEAD by JJ Deceglie (2011)

Review by Mike Dennis


“I wasn’t always an asshole.”

That’s Jack Andrelli talking in the opening line of JJ Deceglie’s Drawing Dead, and then he takes the rest of this riveting noir novella trying to convince you of exactly the opposite.

Andrelli is a down-and-out private investigator in Perth, Western Australia, with virtually no redeeming qualities, and he appears determined to assist in his own death any way he can. He’s a degenerate gambler, he owes big money to small gangsters, and he consumes every drop of alcohol he can get his hands on as quickly as possible. He’s a wiseass, profane noir character, to be sure, making big mistakes every step of the way, utterly without regard for the consequences. You get to the point where you want to reach into the page and slap the shit out of him to make him act a little more rationally, but of course, that’s when you realize Deceglie has you right where he wants you.

Amid all his grim prospects, Andrelli actually manages to get a client, a gorgeous brunette (“a vixen, a kitten, a demon”) who, in almost any other private eye novel, would be a mawkish cliché. In Drawing Dead, however, she’s a good fit, giving Andrelli an outlet for his bizarre sexual fantasies, as well as making a sturdy contribution to the plot. It seems she can enable him to get his hands on a lot of money, money he needs to pay back the gangsters who are by now considering ways to end his life.

With blinding neon prose, the author places the reader squarely at his protagonist’s side, and through all the boozing and the beatings, you find yourself actually rooting for the guy. I found the unconventional style, which includes no quote marks around dialogue, few commas, and block paragraphs, to be off-putting at first, but I quickly adjusted and let the style close in over my head for a much more satisfying reading experience.

Deceglie has taken the notoriously inflexible private eye format and busted it wide open, cutting this novella loose from the genre’s stifling chains. Drawing Dead breaks new ground.

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