Mon January 19, 2009
Nursery Rhyme Noir: The Hasp Deadbolt Files, by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Nursery Rhyme Noir is not quite flash fiction but it is only one notch up?the short-short. Kopaska-Merkel has created a P.I., Hasp Deadbolt, often mistakenly called Deadbeat, to tell these stories. Read aloud, or even silently, Deadbolt sounds like Garrison Keillor's Guy Noir...
By Don Noble
Physicians like Michael Crichton and Steven Rudd do it.
Ad men like Philip Shirley do it
Almost all attorneys, it seems, do it.
So it should be no big surprise that geologists want to do it too.
Write fiction, that is.
David Kopaska-Merkel, who has his day job at the Alabama Geological Survey, by his own definition "describes rocks for the State of Alabama." He is the co-editor of Pennsylvania Footprints in the Black Warrior Basin of Alabama, a paleontology work we assume is very nonfictional, about rare animal fossil tracks. He is also the author of a bunch of poetry and a blog, which includes flash fiction?the very shortest form of fiction. An example: "My name is Daisy. You mow my parents. Prepare to die."
Nursery Rhyme Noir is not quite flash fiction but it is only one notch up?the short-short. Kopaska-Merkel has created a P.I., Hasp Deadbolt, often mistakenly called Deadbeat, to tell these stories. Read aloud, or even silently, Deadbolt sounds like Garrison Keillor's Guy Noir, who is himself of course a parody of the Mike Hammer of Mickey Spillane or Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Deadbolt narrates each case, and each case is based on a nursery rhyme--Little Bo Peep, Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, you get the picture. Having not read these nursery rhymes in over thirty years I went to the Tuscaloosa Public Library and read one hundred of them in just a few minutes. This is not difficult because they are very, very short. Little Bo Peep is 25 words. Humpty Dumpty is 27 words The story of Jack Sprat and his wife is told in only 24 words.
This gives Kopaska-Merkel lots of room to invent and it is clear he has a good time with that freedom.
The story "In the Alley, with a Candlestick," opens: "The woman in the low-cut red dress looked at me like a hungry cat staring into a pet store." The babe is Natalia Nimble, wife of Jack B. Nimble, who is missing. It seems all that was found was some burned flesh and some paraffin. Was this an accident? Has Jack been murdered? Well, no. As it turns out, Mrs. Nimble is so sexually demanding that Jack has staged his own death and disappeared. Deadbolt questions some barflies, gets the facts, and solves the case. A year later, he tells us, Nimble went on the lam again, but this time, after the divorce, Natalia went to live in the forest, "with a bunch of diminutive miners."
Peas Porridge Hot, a ditty we all know, is turned into a murder mystery also. The wife is murdered. She had served her husband the same thing for nine days, sometimes, cold. Justifiable homicide?
Lucy Locket lost her pocket, we are told in only 20 words, Kitty Fisher found it. Not a penny was there in it, only ribbon round it. Well there may have been no money in that pocketbook/purse, but there were photographs in that purse, intimate, even dirty ones taken by Kitty Fisher's husband of naughty Lucy Locket, his mistress. It doesn't take Deadbolt long to solve this one. Husband kills wife in order to be with Luscious Lucy. Deadbolt gets the goods on them and they are sent to the Big House.
There are 26 of these fractured tales. We investigate how and why Humpty Dumpty fell. How Jack and Jill came to fall down that hill. Why the clock struck one (one mouse that is), how three blind mice lost their tails.
These stories would not be confused with literary fiction, but the author is having fun and succeeds at what he intended: fantasy, diversion, humor, entertainment.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.