How do you locate stolen talent? How do you kill a man who’s already dead? How do you have sex with a corpse? One is initially led to believe that these questions are absurd. However, these are some of the central questions presented in the recently published novella The Perfect Defective by Clark Casey, out on Some Dead Trees Press Publishing. The initial read is of a hybrid between a Kurt Vonnegut Novel, and something you happen upon on Adult Swim at four in the morning.

The story follows a washed-up, sardonically witty private investigator named Jack Hannigan, as he attempts to solve a hilariously unrealistic case that involves stolen talent, sexually aroused corpses, cheerleader betrayal, sexual deviancy, stripper murder, and all the Johnnie Walker Blue Label you can drink. The reader is introduced to this satirical detective story by way of a local community college professor – Professor Durgen – attempting to locate his missing talent while in the middle of writing a novel without an ending, leading him to enlist the ‘talents’ of the PI to help track it down. Casey sets his comical tone from the very beginning of the novella, describing the professor as having “a tuff of sandy hair” giving him the “fresh-from-the-yacht-club look,” then reconsiders stating, “or maybe he was black” (1).

This tone is carried throughout the narrative, as we are introduced to hysterical characters such as the ‘deceased’ grad student, Frank Rappaport, his love interest/stripper Angel Vagina, the busty redheaded cheerleader with a murderous edge, Tiffany, and the oh so loveable Nancy Wellington whose only desire is to study vegetarianism at Stanford. The entire novella is riddled with wildly entertaining, witty one-liners such as “I had pissed on a movie star, and that’s really the most anyone can hope to accomplish in life” (24). However, in the midst of all of the quips, sexual conquests, alcoholism, and a ludicrous plot, a charming story emerges about the struggles of life and how a cynical society deals with rejection and lost love Casey portrays Jack Hannigan as a hopeless old hack of a detective, left by his former wife for another man, forced to find his meaning at the bottom of a whiskey bottle and up the skirts of hookers and anyone else with low enough self-esteem to try him on for size. Hannigan makes statements such as, “Nobody wanted to be anywhere near the bottom of the pile in this shithouse we call humanity” (43). And in response to the loss of his true love, “I should have known that when she stole my heart it’d end up in a pawn shop” (45). We see Hannigan projected onto the other characters that just want to find happiness and love in other people or their daily pursuits, but no one seems to have much luck – least of all Hannigan. They have no qualms with doing whatever is necessary – murder, sex, adultery, spying on sudsy cheerleaders in the shower – to assure themselves true happiness and peace.

Finally, as the narrative winds to a close, we see a dramatic shift in the tone of the story. Hannigan alters from a mindset that holds “life just became a video game where you tried to stay out of the obits, and eventually lost” (37) to a tone of a hopefulness that can be summed up in the Professor’s final line in his newly completed novel, “three words: to be continued” (48). The revelation of completing a case, “solving” it, and having the other characters move past their personal struggles instills in the PI a vigor to remember why he is alive, and to pursue that to it’s proper end. What seemed destined to be a tragic portrayal of the human condition, ultimately concludes in a positive view of life, with the notion that it is always ‘to be continued’

Review by @tripstarkey