Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Reviews Of Books I Have Read

 Lest You Wake The Snoring by Osbert Yunch
The cover to Mr. Yunch's book shows eight images of famous snorers, awakened in mid-snore reverie and thus forever blemished by premature esophageal interruption, leaving large, hideous skin eruptions upon their faces. So hideous in fact, that the publisher found it necessary to cover them with black dots so as not to cause vomiting in the aisles of bookshops. Veracity is a key element to Mr. Yunch's work, scientific theory and fictional flights of fancy united in the sacred dance of words and the world of the laboratory, experimentation taking no back seat to the whims and whinnies of a public preoccupied with popular culture and free sample giveaways with every purchase of Mama Gustino's Frozen Pizza Plops, pushing the envelope of genre writing and then sometimes putting a stamp on it and dropping it into the mailbox and mailing it to some unsuspecting family.
There have been so many great crime novel detectives over the years, but none can hold a candle or Sterno light flame if you haven't a candle in your rooming-house facilities or, failing that, three or four Bic lighters duct-taped together and ignited by someone with extra-large thumbs and pyromaniac tendencies, to author, Osbert Yunch's, wonderful addition to crime genre heroes. His crime-fighting creation, Klonky Zagoosh, is made even that much more complex by the fact he's a conjoined twin, joined at the head, and his twin, Reginald, is an arch criminal and serial killer to boot. I would call them Siamese twins except for the fact they were born in Milwaukee, which is no where near Siam (although Yul Brynner played the King of Siam and he was born in Russia but a great actor can get away with these things), and Yunch milks this locale for everything it's worth but for the fact that the twins, in this first book that I can only hope will become a series, move out of Milwaukee pretty much in the opening paragraph and relocate to Kenora, Ontario, where they run a French fry truck on the border between Ontario and Manitoba. So if you were looking for a little Milwaukee colour and history, don't look here because you won't find it in this book, though Yunch does mention Laverne and Shirley briefly, which the twins like to watch reruns of while cutting eachother's toenails and sipping Miller Lights, but from there on in it's the great white north with its barn owls, caribou, lichen-flavoured doughnuts and tile and grout themed strip clubs. Now Yunch is an intriguing writer in that before he became a novelist, he was a typewriter repairman and built the world's largest, working typewriter that he still uses to this day, with the help of his lovely and strong-thighed wife, Darleen (you'd have strong thighs too if you had to step on giant typewriter keys all day), and all I can say, in this day of the computer age, is that Mr. Yunch, using this seemingly primitive method, knows how to churn out a page-turner that will have you turning pages like you were in a doctor's office ignoring your name as they call you in for a colonoscopy referral.
Here the author instructs his wife, Darleen, on the proper method for striking the keys in high heels. Once he gets going, dictating his novel in an almost stream of consciousness manner, it becomes a dance between the two of them, a dance of words and ideas and Darleen in a bathing suit stomping down on giant typewriter keys, no mean feat when you're wearing high heels, but it's a detail the author insists upon as he finds the sound of high heel against key so conducive to his thought processes.
So, the story opens in Milwaukee for one sentence and like Hemingway, before he became a drunkard and married a swordfish down in Key West, Mr. Yunch, packs so much punch and information, description and innuendo into that one sentence you'll feel like you've been walloped by a bag full of walnuts, but subtly, as if they were not walnuts at all but maybe beechnuts or gentle pine nuts.  On a nut theme, in a recent interview with Auto Coolant Magazine (Mr. Yunch, before he became a bestselling author, was, along with being a typewriter repairman also an auto coolant specialist serving the greater Muskoka and Gravenhurst area in Northern Ontario), the author talked about how his inspiration for the novel came from a true story about conjoined twin squirrels, Plitzy and Haufhauf, who lived in an old Dutch elm diseased tree not far from the author's house. It turns out the Siamese squirrel twins were on opposite ends of the behavioral spectrum with Plitzy being a nut stealer and general troublemaker and Haufhauf doing good for the community, brought into schools as an educator to warn children against the dangers of rabies plus passing on his vast knowledge about poisonous saplings, non-edible toadstools and using elk urine to soothe mosquito and horsefly bites. 
The real life conjoined squirrel twins, Plitzy and Haufhauf, were immortalized by famed Gravenhurst taxidermist, Horst Nibbler, in all their glory. Plitzy, true to his impish personality, is portrayed with a stolen nut in his paws and a devil-may-care expression upon his face while Haufhauf shows the shock and concern of the morally taciturn who want to speak but cannot due to sibling loyalty. They stand in a showcase in the Muskoka Heritage Museum where both children and adults from all over the world come to marvel at this exhibition of both science and the darker arts of squirrel psychology.
Now, it's no great stretch of the imagination for the reader to believe that conjoined squirrel twins can be anthropomorphisized into functioning human beings as both species show the same tendencies in regards to hoarding, scampering, nut-cracking techniques and mating habits, especially in the winter months when snow blankets the ground in a shimmering coat of white, not unlike that of a dead albino Alsatian dog being eaten by maggots out back of a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise near Lake Nipissing in northern Ontario and blends in so well you don't know it's even there until you hit it with your snowmobile. Still, to pull off the transition so fluidly, especially in terms of the genre novel, shows an expertise and agility of wordplay, conceptual thinking and effortless plotting, which Mr. Yunch demonstrates so beautifully that it's enough to make you weep if you weren't on the edge of your seat with the suspense he creates. In fact this novel keeps you so much on the edge of your seat that, if you don't have a seat, I suggest you borrow one because otherwise you're just hanging to the edge of nothing and that can be quite uncomfortable as anyone who has had to remain in a half-squat position for any length of time (e.g. defecating in a wooded area or alleyway after a hefty buffet) can attest to. There's no need to be picky either as any type of seat will do be it kitchen chair, lawn chair, armchair and in extreme cases even an ottoman will suffice.
When Gravehurst residents were finally at the their wit's ends, they called in these two squirrel bounty hunters, Frank and Zeke Johnson, renowned throughout the territory for always getting their man, or rodent really. A gunfight ensued near Clausson & Sons Snowmobile and Lawn Mower Repair and Plitzy and Haufhauf were soon dispatched to meet their maker (who in the squirrel world is not god but the Nut King of the Royal Order of Oak Trees). Many years later when the Johnson brothers met their end, peacefully I might add, especially for lawmen of their stature and the many dangers they faced on a day-to-day basis, taxidermist, Horst Nibbler, stuffed them with their trusty and beloved weapons in hand. They too are at the Muskoka Heritage Museum and people to this day stop and ponder how those cute little paws that can hold a nut so gently could also be the same paws to pull the trigger on a lethal weapon of destruction and paint the wood-paneled walls of a double-wide with a fellow rodent's brains.
Who would imagine such tension could be built around such basic elements as working in a French fry truck, but here Mr. Yunch shows his adeptness at turning the everyday into something so horrific you'll think twice about ever eating French fries again, or at least with ketchup. Klonky and Reginald Zagoosh are doing a booming business with their tasty 'taters enterprise that they've cleverly called Siamese Spuds, and Kenorans have embraced the conjoined twins as if they were born and bred in Kenora itself even though a city bylaw states that any two people joined at the head are forbidden from driving any vehicles with vats of hot cooking oil in them within the city limits. But so beloved are the twins, the mayor steps in and waives the bylaw and the Zagoosh brothers reciprocate with free French fries for everyone in Kenora that day. So amongst this happy scene and the peacefulness that permeates this northern Ontario city, except for the odd moose that meanders through the main street and rampages through the Tim Horton's Donut Shop looking for maple glazed, one would never guess of the darkness that resides in Reginald Zagoosh's heart or the twisted pathways that send evil running through his brain. At night, as Klonky sleeps, Reginald does his dirty deeds, breaking into a bunch of double-wides in the local trailer park and stealing everything in sight, including even the crusted cheese beneath the toaster oven trays and asthma medication from bedside tables. Well, as we know, breaking and entering is only the gateway drug so to speak from stealing cubic zirconia rings commemorating ten years at Ron's Paving & Contracting to serial killing, and soon Reginald is not only swiping the family heirlooms but murdering the family too. The fact that he's able to drag his conjoined twin on these nefarious nighttime exploits without waking Klonky in the process, is a testament to Klonky's knack for deep sleep and his excessively loud snoring, which could wake the dead except it doesn't as Reginald proves time and time again as the dead bodies pile up like so many French fries upon the plate. Ironically, it's Klonky's loud snoring that covers up the noises from Reginald's serial killing exertions, including not just the muffled screams but also the sounds from Reginald feeding the body parts through the French fry hand-cutting machine. Because that's how Reginald is disposing of the bodies, and to make matters worse, he's serving these human flesh French fries to adoring Kenorans with Klonky unwittingly aiding and abetting (being a conjoined twin makes him an instant accomplice), happily salting and packaging these cannibalistic tuber strings for both young and old to eat.   
This device is not unlike the one Reginald Zagoosh used to turn his victims into French fries. Known for its ease of use, though hand-operated it's efficiency has been praised by French fry makers world wide.
So enthralled are the locals with the French fries, that Reginald, with his constantly scheming mind, talks Klonky into investing in a spiral shaping 'tater machine, leading to even more human parts eaten by their friends and neighbours as this new shaped food captivates them. But this is where the plot takes a strange twist as Klonky is also a practicing private detective and is hired by the mayor of Kenora, Sluggo DeBarion, to solve the mystery of all the people disappearing or reported missing without a trace and thus frustrating the local police. He has no clue it's his conjoined twin brother committing these horrible atrocities, as he snores contentedly throughout Reginald's killing escapades, but no sleuth is worth the salt they put on their French fries if they can't solve a brutal murder that is happening literally only inches away. Does Klonky solve the mystery? Does he realize he is turning good, upstanding citizens of Kenora into French fries and then feeding those French fries to other, good, upstanding citizens of the city? And if he does solve these crimes, does he then turn his brother in to the authorities to serve time, probably a life sentence, which means a life sentence for him too since they're joined at the head? Where does his loyalty lie and how strong is the bond of blood as opposed to the bond of the bleeding? Well, I'm not going to reveal any of that because the denouement to this book will have you staggering as it did to me, although that might've been the result of too much Neo Citran and some bad chicken wings. Either way, if you love serial killing and arcane French fry history mixed in with quaint Northern Ontario small town living, you'll love this book, and even if you don't like French fries or serial killing, the riveting personalities of the characters will keep you up late turning pages or sometimes not even turning them but just staring at the words and maybe drooling a bit while psoriasis flakes fall like fine snow on to your now partially open bathrobe.
This French fry machine delivers all the power and torque to turn even the stubbornest potato or body part into a perfect, spiraled ready-for-the-deep-fryer delicacy. It is this exact model that Osbert Yunch studied, even going so far as to purchase one and dismantle it to understand all its moving parts, lending yet another level of authenticity to his magnificent thriller.
As a footnote to this review and to further pique the interest of future readers, not only is the conjoined twin angle based on factual truth (albeit squirrels instead of humans), but the author's father, Leopold Yunch was a leading researcher of snoring and was a heavy snorer himself, not only during sleep but in his waking hours too. He designed the first ever fully-conscious portable snoring chamber (pictured below), so that as he worked on his snoring treatise he did not bother the other people in his household or at his office at the University of Gruenschmeltz.
The fully-conscious portable snoring chamber may look intimidating but the hood has a luxurious nutria fur lining and the breathing canister contains a mix of oxygen and nitrous oxide to both energize and inspire the wearer no matter how tired they are from non-stop snoring. Here, Leopold had himself photographed in the apparatus while diligently working on his thesis, Tracheal Resonance in the Snorers of 18th Century Bavaria and its Effects on the Rise of the Resulting Midget Population of Switzerland.
So it comes as no surprise that Osbert has used father's snoring knowledge to add a credibility to this seat-of-your-pants thriller. In fact, I wore out the seats in two pairs of pants as the novel kept me  on the edge of my seat until I smartly switched to a bathrobe to save any further damage to my outdoor wardrobe.
A portrait of Leopold Yunch and his wife, Nutsy. Here Leopold is wearing a deep-sea diver's helmet so as to muffle the sound of his snoring. Amazingly, Osbert was conceived while his father was wearing one of these helmets so that Nutsy's cries in the throes of passion ("Oh, Leopold, my little schnarcher der Zwerg einen machen.") fell on deaf ears.
But let me say, you could read this book wearing just about anything. Pants, shorts, lederhosen, Speedos, kilts, skirts, loincloths or adult diapers and the effect would still be the same. Be prepared for a gripping journey because Osbert Yunch uses words as if they were suction cups and this book will caress you like an octopus, grip your eyeballs and suck on your senses before the tentacles of drama squeeze you senseless and wash you ashore on the beach of broken dreams and barnacles where not even flying by the seat of your pants, pants, I might add, that have already had the seat worn out of them, can save you from the terrible inevitability of Osbert Yunch's vision and where the innocent image of a squirrel munching on a stray French fry from the garbage can at your local park, a sight that once filled you with joy, will now send paroxysms of terror pulsating through your body and wishing you'd chosen adult diapers rather than a kilt to wear while reading this novel. And the next time you wake yourself with your own snores, never fear, for unless you're joined at the head with your conjoined twin, there will still be pancakes and bacon waiting for you in the morning, and as for the French fries, I'll take hash browns, please.

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