When eight old friends from high school manage to stay in touch and call on each other’s help over the years for matters great and small, you know a lot of history is there along with innumerable possibilities for comic mayhem. That’s certainly the case with JP Rieger’s new police procedural, Clonk! Humour? The clue is in the title.
The main character is Kev Dixit, a police officer in Baltimore, Maryland, and his procedures are hardly from the manual. He has a brilliant way of subverting the system and solving problems outside – sometimes way outside – any approach he was trained to use by the police academy. He’s tried for years to move up in the department, giving textbook answers on the detective exam until one day, in frustration, he just answers the questions in the most bizarre way possible. Great idea! Next thing you know, the promotion comes through.
Two of his long-time friends referred to above are not nearly as bright as they think they are and get themselves way over their heads into some fraudulent real estate schemes. Arson is involved. In their worst possible moment, it’s their old pal Kev who helps them out, along with two more old friends – Chris, an ever-optimistic actor and terrible singer who always believes his big theatrical break is just around the corner; and Brian (the Troll) who is an undertaker. Yes, a dead body is involved.
A running gag is that everyone thinks Chris is gay, which he is not, and that misperception not only colours how strangers react to him, but how his friends use it to their advantage – ridding themselves of an unwanted girlfriend by pretending to be in a relationship with him, for example. Three more alumni of their Catholic high school who play smaller, but plot-vital parts are a disgraced doctor, an agoraphobic FBI agent, and an over-the-top attorney called in to save the doctor’s bacon.
The story takes place in and around Baltimore and its suburbs in two main time periods – the mid-1990s, when all the guys were just starting out, and skipping forward to near the current day. You’ll find some uniquely Baltomorean touches and topics here, yet you can get the sense that these guys are essentially well-meaning, occasional screw-ups whom you could find almost anywhere. Occasionally they do spend time reminiscing about high school high jinks, and what you learn, not surprisingly, is that what drew them together is they were all outcasts, the weirdos no one else wanted to spend time with. No doubt their early practice in outwitting older bullying classmates hinted at how their later selves would operate.
The beauty of these backward looks is that they lay the groundwork for understanding quite a bit about who these guys are and how they react in a crisis. (Rieger signals when a particular scene takes place and, even though the narrative jumps around chronologically, you probably won’t have any difficulty understanding where you are.) And the crises keep coming.
Dixit has help carrying out his clever investigations from his wife, Bhavna, a psychotherapist whom he met when being examined after his first fatal shooting. She decided right away that he was fit to go back to work, but enjoyed talking to him so much that the sessions continued for some time. Together, they solve a pretty big crime, and once again Dixit deploys his method of going all around a problem and coming in from unexpected angle that really works. Most entertaining is when the person he’s manipulating is totally unaware of it.
There’s crime aplenty and much that will make you chuckle, as the world of policing the Dixit way zigzags forward. Dixit has cases to investigate and solve. He runs into departmental politics. He is assigned trainees. They’re naïve or humourless women who needless to say are puzzled by his methods and may think him terribly old school, but who come away from the experience with a more complete understanding of what ‘to protect and serve’ actually means.
A lot happens in this book’s 217 pages, and it moves quickly along on a river of incident. Underlying everything, it’s a testament to the value of loyalty and friendship.
Read our interview with author Rieger here, where he calls Kev ‘a fortress in the storm of life’s absurdities.’ Definitely.
Apprentice House Press
CFL Rating: 5 Stars