Night of the Avenging Blowfish by John WelterAmerican books aren’t funny. With Nick Hornby’s new book, A Long Way Down, coming out in June and Douglas Adams’ masterpiece, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, finally in theaters after being held in production hell for decades, I’m enamored again with British humor. While I never quite captured the lunatic love for Monty Python that people have, I’ve always amazingly and pleasantly surprised at the depth of the British plethora of comic novels. While every so often, a Brit will break through to their American cousins with a Bridget Jones, the great mass of novels at my local bookstore is depressingly grim. Treading between techno-thrillers and cancer memoirs, finding something funny to read in America is a hell of a challenge some days. The Brits have Nick Hornby, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry and even Hugh Laurie who wrote the magnificent spy novel The Gun Seller, although I gather he’s since been corrupted by a television show about doctors, because really, we need more of those.
I mean, Christopher Moore has to be allowed some time off every once in a while. We need more people on our team.
Luckily, while scouring the bookshelves early one morning after a long night of Melatonin and Palahniuk-induced nightmares, I remembered Doyle Coldiron, the hero of Night of the Avenging Blowfish. Take one half of the Marx Brothers wicked fast dialogue and add one part resentment of authority straight out of Catch-22 or The Last Detail. Mix in an absurd plot involving the President of the United States, Spam, terrorists, a tipsy ambassador and a covert baseball game between the Secret Service and the CIA. Add a dirty martini -- shaken not stirred -- and pour.
Doyle is a depressed Secret Service agent who spends half his time protecting a President he didn’t vote for and the other half of the time drinking beer with his cohorts and pining away after Natelle, a married Catholic colleague in the middle of a disastrous marriage. Doyle’s misery is our gain, however, as he channels his depression into a wildly disrespectful attitude towards work and planning the aforementioned baseball game between the CIA and the Avenging Blowfish.
Naturally, we’d all been meticulously screened for loyalty and psychological suitability for the Service, with great emphasis on our supposed moral character and sanity, although I was never convinced it was provably sane to have a job where you carried pistols and machine guns and were willing to shoot any human in the world to protect a politician you didn’t vote for and maybe didn’t even like.
In fact, the interaction between Coldiron and his weird collaborators make for some of the best humor in the book, as author John Welter has a real gift for dialogue that passes directly from the Marx Brothers to Yossarian to the original film version of MASH to the Avenging Blowfish.
“What should we call our team?” Pascal asked.
“Jesus Christ,” Doltmeer said wearily.
“That’s not a good name for a team,” Widdiker said.
“There’s not going to be a team,” Doltmeer said with authority we didn’t care about.
“Where’s the sign-up sheet?” someone asked.
“We’ll make our own.”
“Isn’t that cheating?”
“I think that’s how you’re supposed to play this game,” Widdiker said.
“How can you see a ball at night without lights?” Pascal wondered.
“We could use phosphorus grenades,” someone suggested.
“I think it would delay the game too much if you killed everyone in the infield.”
Along the way, Doyle manages to personally aggravate the President by knowingly allowing the mad White House chef to serve cat food and Spam and gets reassigned to protect a vodka-loving, Cole Porter-singing ambassador. In pursuing a radical animal rights group, his partner Yamoto falls in love with the suspect. There’s a hell of a firefight in the White House kitchen. Oh, and the mysterious inter-agency baseball game, scheduled for Bastille Day? Well, you’ll just have to track down the book and enjoy. Bring phosphorus grenades. And Spam.
Night of the Avenging Blowfish by John Welter
Algonguin Books of Chapel Hill