John Dwaine McKenna’s newest novel starts out with understatement. In the words of 15-year-old Jamey McGoran, “The Whim-Wham man’s story ain’t easy to tell.” It wasn’t easy to write, either. As the author says on the book’s back cover, “There’s no sanitary way to write about murder.”
“Sometimes I only wrote a paragraph a day,” he said. “It took me weeks to write the murder scene.”
In fact, in its short 136 pages the book packs a lot of punched both literally and figuratively. This coming-of-age/murder mystery is a fast read but the reading is almost as hard as the telling.
Set in 1940 in the small town of Husted on what is now on the U.S. Air Force Academy, “The Whim-Wham Man” starts out with a glimpse at life toward the end of the Great Depression when times were still tough but the economy was starting to mend. It wasn’t mending fast enough for young McGoran, his sister Catherine, his proud and independent mother and his father, a man who thinks with his fists because his brain is usually pickled with drink.
The book is written from Jamey McGoran’s point of view and he does “impending doom” really well. The reader can feel something coming from that very first sentence but, when disaster finally hits, it’s still a surprise.
McKenna, who lives in Colorado Springs, gives the reader a feel for that bygone age and when McGoran drives the family’s old Model T from Husted to the Springs, he describes places readers can still see on South Tejon, Nevada Avenue and Sierra Madre Street. The book is well researched and seeing the area through McGoran’s eyes brings it back to life.
This is not a book for everyone but mystery lovers will appreciate the spare and concise narrative; there’re no wasted words and every scene leads directly to the conclusion. The book is writtenas the first in a detective series as the lead character grows up to become a Colorado Springs detective with a mission.
McKenna based his idea for the story on a short paragraph he read in a newspaper in 2011 about then Gov. Ritter pardoning Joe Arridy, a simple-minded man who was falsely executed for murder in 1939. Arridy is the basis for the “Whim-Wham Man” character but the similarities between the book and the history end there.
“The Whim-Wham Man” is published by Rhyolite Press and can be purchased online at www.rhyolitepress.com. McKenna’s first book, “The Neversink Chronicles,” is a Colorado Independent Publishers Association EVVY award winner.