Reviews: “Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want To Steal Your Bones!” and “The Vine That Ate The Starlet”

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“Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want To Steal Your Bones!” by Duncan P. Bradshaw

On sale here.

When a crime drama focuses on an unconventional detective who “doesn’t do things by the book”, this usually doesn’t mean that said detective stores equipment in his anus for quick retrieval. But does the world really need another story about a cop who doesn’t use his dumper as a compartment to hold his badge?

Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! is jam-packed (much like its protagonist’s anal-cavity) with over-the-top visual humour and comedic passages. The prose is unmistakably British – even before the scene about tea-related gang violence – and by the end of the book, the fourth wall is almost non-existent.

The narrative takes time to flesh out even the minor characters who are introduced just to die a few pages later; this is refreshingly rare for bizarro, where a lot of the time, the quick-and-easy pulp nature of the genre forces the story to bolt from one plot point to the next for the sake of a shorter word count. The book is constantly throwing curveballs in terms of both the plot and humour, and you never know what to expect from one page to the next. This is what it looks like when an author’s having fun with their own creation.

The “bad cop” at the centre of this work is a really bad cop at times, which can make it hard to be on his side. Maybe the protag and secondary characters could’ve been given more personal stakes in the central case, instead of kinda just going along with the plot. I didn’t feel like I was fully “behind” the heroes at many points throughout their journey (see the Deadpool films for tips on how to make people root for a violent antihero). I think the non-stop goofball, laughs-before-anything-else nature of this book might’ve worked better if it were about half or two-thirds as long. Then again, I didn’t spot many typos for a book of this length, so that’s a plus.

The novel’s visual art and aesthetic are a bit too nice for its content matter – as in, I can almost see someone’s granny picking up the book thinking it’ll be about gardening tips or full of poems of springtime, only to be greeted with scenes of abstract penis enlargement surgery and men addicted to sniffing dog milk. But most roads leading readers to discover this book are paved with similar stories, so if you’re after a zany tale that never takes itself too (or remotely) seriously, pick up DStF!TWtSYB! today.

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“The Vine That Ate The Starlet” by Madeleine Swann

On sale here.

People gossip. People conspire. People would do anything for fame. None of this changes when the world’s overgrown with carnivorous plants.

Right from its opening sentence, The Vine That Ate The Starlet identifies itself as uncanny. The novella oozes sophistication reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties, perfectly at odds with the plant-based weirdness as much as the words “ooze” and “sophistication” are at odds. It’s basically Gatsby’s Shop of Horrors.

The story’s elegance and old-world charm feels genuine, organic, rather than a facade draped on for the sake of parody. It’s actually refreshing to read a bizarro book that isn’t a ribald barrage of violence and crudeness (even though that’s what I like about said books). That’s not to say that there’s no grit or danger to the tale, though. This is a world where criminal agendas lurk under the surface, threatening to snatch the heroine and ancillary characters at any moment. Luckily, the protagonist knows how to navigate the politics of both the glitzy showbiz side of this world and the seedier, plantier underbelly.

In the first two-thirds of the novella or so, the bizarre and sci-fi elements sit on the fringe of the story. I would go so far as to say that they could be entirely removed without the core plot or tone altering all that much. This changes in the climax, however, when the plants unveil their true role. I’d liked to have seen more focus on these elements – not necessarily throughout the story, but maybe just a deeper dive into the worldbuilding aspect when things really ramp up towards the end.

This short book jumps straight to the point, wrapping its vines around you and dragging you through a mystery wrapped in glamour. Get it before the decade ends and the flapper look goes out of style.

I write weird and/or wonderful fiction. Find my novels here.

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