When a mystery barely tops two hundred pages, you know that whatever's going to happen is going to happen fast and hard.
And, man, does A Man Named Doll come at you hard and fast. As hard and fast as a naked, tweaking, behemoth brandishing a hunting knife.
While always a reliable writer, across his thirty-year career Jonathan Ames has been somewhat aimless. He's worked in novels, comics, memoirs, television, modelling, boxing. He was behind the HBO series Bored to Death and Lynne Ramsay's brutal and beautiful You Were Never Really Here. Also, if memory serves, he fought Canada's own Craig Davidson fifteen-or-so years ago to promote Davidson's book, The Fighter. Ames' new novel, A Man Named Doll, is as slim as its author, yet it's tightness is bulked out by nine additional pages promising both the return of his new character, PI Happy Doll, and some continuity to Ames' books.
Hank Doll (nee Happy) is a vet and former LAPD. To make ends meet, he also moonlights as security in a massage parlour. No dame greets him at the opening of his first adventure, but rather it's Lou Shelton, a pal and a former partner on the force. Lou's not looking good, though he never looks good. "He was covered in liver spots like a paisley tie and was built like a bowling pin--round in the middle and meager up top." Lou's got a bum kidney and he's come to ask Hank if he could borrow his. It's a sad and tender beginning to the tumult of batshit conflict that Hank will come up against as soon as he leaves his office, but A Man Named Doll is, after all, a sad and tender and batshit book.
It was famously said of Raymond Chandler that he wrote "as if pain hurt and life mattered" and the same could be said of Ames in this new novel. For a hardboiled lead, Doll still has a runny yoke. He's enamoured with his dog George, half-Chihuahua and half-terrier of some kind, he's a dedicated participant in Freudian analysis, and he struggles to tell the few non-canines he has in his life that he loves them. In attempting to protect others, Doll leaves himself wide open to attack, and in this one he takes a lot. First off, Doll isn't sure of his blood type when Lou asks, but in the coming days he'll have ample opportunity to find out.
A Man Named Doll gets going fast and doesn't let up, and yet the kindness and sadness of the novel's titular hero allows it to never feel rushed. You'll want more Happy and George as soon as you're done and it's good news that Ames' appears to be settled enough to come through.