Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: Tom Schreck's "Hounding Duffy"

This review of Tom Schreck's audio short story, "Hounding Duffy", was originally posted to the Dorothy-L mailing list. A few people outside the list asked about it, so I'm reposting it here.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law spent the last 8 years of their lives in ever-diminishing transition. As they moved from their house to a retirement apartment, an assisted living facility, and full nursing care, at each step they had to give up some of their personal possessions - heirloom furniture, workshop tools, the family car - each mirroring the capacities they gave up as their bodies gradually failed them. It is a process of constant decision, daily deciding what is important.

As time progresses, the physical property remaining becomes ever more important - the last tangible links to a life lived well, to ancestors long gone, and to children, grandchildren, and descendants yet to come. Whether the item is large or small, extravagant or inexpensive, or lovely or homely is unimportant. The significance comes from the connection to a grander life, beyond the limits that have been imposed.

And that is the problem confronted in Tom Schreck's short story, "Hounding Duffy". Personal property is disappearing from residents of the County Home. A sweater here, a wristwatch there. Nothing of significance, right? But when Duffy Dombrowski discovers that one of the victims is someone who played an important role in his life, someone who has been reduced to a shadow of his past, there is nothing to do but right the wrong.

Duffy Dombrowski may well be compared to Spenser - both have experience in the boxing ring, both are smart-alecs who don't know when to keep their mouths shut, both have faithful canine companions, both... er, both...

Well, okay. Duffy isn't an amateur gourmet chef. Duffy isn't a P.I. Duffy isn't living with Susan Silverman. It doesn't appear that Duffy has a friend named Hawk, Falcon or Ptarmigan, and Duffy doesn't end every speech with "Duffy said".

But if this short story is any indication, Duffy may well be a hell of a lot funnier than Spenser, and capable of just as many poignant moments. Some elements of the story were predictable - I attribute this to the short format, more than anything else. But the world Schreck tells his stories in is sufficiently rich that this minor lapse (if indeed it is a lapse) is not important - there's too much to do, hanging on for dear life and enjoying the ride to worry about minutia. And the conclusion was more satisfying than a 6-pack of Schlitz.

I listened to the free audio version of "Hounding Duffy"; I didn't really know anything about Tom's work, but hey, he offered it, right here on Dorothy-L - and I had a brand-new MP3 player begging to be used. When I hear the words, "Read by the author", I generally hold my breath. Even professionally-produced author readings are sometimes bad news. In this case, I am not waiting to exhale. The technical aspects of the recording - sound quality, consistent volume levels, etc - are all quite good, and Tom Schreck's performance is absolutely hilarious (and I mean that in a good way).

"Hounding Duffy" is available for audio download on Tom's web site, and also as a PDF download, along with three other short stories, and details on the two Duffy novels, TKO and On The Ropes.

I have been deliberately vague on details I would normally mention, not because they would be spoilers, but because they are introduced in such a way that I would not want to deprive anyone else of the full-bodied laughs they induce.

Two final comments - while "Hounding Duffy" is not set specifically at the holidays, it is, I think, a great holiday story. And last, I love a story where the sleuth doggedly persists to see that even a petty thief gets it in the end.

So go on, start downloading. You know you want to. If only to find out what a basket hound is.

No comments: