Sunday, October 02, 2011

Coffin Dodgers (Gary Marshall)

Crafting a believable mystery based on an oddball premise can prove to be a challenge, but one that Gary Marshall embraces with tongue-in-cheek wit and panache. Coffin Dodgers is a light, fast-paced mystery punctuated with genuine comic moments and the usual concerns of a twentysomething life: boredom, work, romance, and the presence of beer. It slightly borders science fiction, with mentions of newspapers with video clips and cars that take care of everything but the steering (although if those were already common occurrences in your part of the globe, you can always chalk it up to my third-world ignorance), but as a whole I feel that Coffin Dodgers is still hewn closer to an alternative present than a truly futuristic sci-fi scenario.

One of the most impressive things about Coffin Dodgers is its conversational tone. Matt is an effective narrator, drawing the reader into his life with ease. He brings familiarity into a world where the bingo hall is one of the most packed places during the weekends. In fact, it’s not just Matt — his friends Amy and Dave are realistically drawn as well. Their banter feels genuine and unaffected, insanely proliferating the novel with nicknames for the people around them (Sleazy Bob, the Yellow Man, Rodeo Rick, to name a few). Their fun and reckless spirit is consistently carried throughout the rest of the novel, encouraging me to imagine Coffin Dodgers unfolding as a movie, that crazy sleeper hit with actors of the indie-slacker persuasion.

This debut novel starts out strong, quickly establishing the mood and parameters of this new world. In just a few wry paragraphs, Marshall outlines the reasons and consequences behind the silvering of the population — one that almost feels plausible. He is also quite careful in letting Matt and his friends function within the scope of their capabilities. They are able to act, reason, and attempt to unravel the conspiracy without calling on James Bond’s arsenal. Their go-to gadgets? Camera phones, online-bought bugs, a sound engineer’s equipment. Again, plausibility in just the right amount.

Coffin Dodgers moves quick enough to let you forget some of its flaws before you realize they were even there. My main concern is that the characters are pretty much WYSIWYG and have little development throughout the course of the book. The antagonists, in particular, are quite cookie-cutter and do nothing to save this book from its predictability. While I can’t fault the book for its pace, I can’t say the same for the way it wraps up the mystery. You know that moment in an action movie when the hero is confronted by seven thugs and you just wonder why the other six are politely waiting their turn instead of rushing at him all at once? I had similar moments while reading this. I felt that the antagonists were just missing that ruthlessly smart gene that would have evened the field. I understand that the ridiculousness of the situation is created by using current universal stereotypes of the elderly, but I was a bit disappointed that longevity in this world didn’t amount to much bad-assery.

Despite these hiccups, I really commend Gary Marshall for coming up with a well-written (and well-edited) debut mystery. There are moments in the book that subtly move into the realm of social commentary without having to try so hard. Irreverent tone notwithstanding, it feels much more polished than the usual indie e-books that I’ve come across — definitely worth an afternoon read.

This review also appears on Adarna SF, an awesome collective for reviews of indie speculative fiction. Please visit the main site :) The author provided a free copy for this review.


Frida Fantastic said...

It's interesting that the author himself agrees with your criticisms:

dementedchris said...

It should totally be a movie, complete with snarky commentary. Haha! I really felt that it read like one. :P

Frida Fantastic said...

Hah! So which indie-slacker actors should be in this movie?

dementedchris said...

I was thinking Jason Lee in Mallrats and Chasing Amy and Jay and Silent Bob... but maybe I should update that to say, James Franco. ;)

Read Philippines said...

Hi dementedchris! We're happy to let you know that we've included Ficsation in the list of Pinoy book blogs at Read We'd love to have you join our fast-growing community of Pinoy readers!

dementedchris said...

Thank you, Read Philippines!