2 out of 5
Burlesque is, obviously, a performance art. It’s something I appreciate conceptually, and I can certainly respect the skills required, but tonally, the air of self-awareness to it, mixed with the general embrasure of camp, isn’t a combination that has entertained me all that much in my few samplings. I’m sure there are examples that are more up my alley, but Johnny Porkpie – the real-life “Burlesque Mayor of New York” – would seem to promote exactly the variety that isn’t my bag, so writing a pulp novel starring himself, set amidst a fictionalized variant of such burlesque, and narrated in a self-congratulatory tone that also rubs me the wrong way… perhaps predisposed me to not liking Porkpie’s Hard Case Crime entry so much. But I feel like this sits on top of actual weaknesses in the text: a repetitive style in which each chapter starts out with some proposed danger or threat, before rewinding and letting us in on the joke (i.e. it’s generally suggestive language describing someone’s burlesque act); a reliance on caricatures of real-life dancers whose personalities are partially just a “you had to be there” sketch; and a rather too-obviously telegraphed mystery, in which we go out of the way to not mention details that are thus clearly important. I suppose some of this would get a pass if it was a bit more entertaining, but that’s where my bias likely comes back into play…
In The Corpse Wore Pasties, Johnny Porkpie is guest-hosting a show in which a performer known for stealing others’ acts – and thus is hated by mostly everyone – winds up dead during her most recently plagiarized performance. The round table of suspects and Porkpie wanting to act as amateur detective are a good setup; however, Porkpie-the-writer tries to lampshade Porkpie-the-character’s amatuerness too aggressively, moving his illogical decisions way past plausible and into the “I’m making this decision just to have a funny scene” territory. While some of the verbal sparring made me giggle, an equal amount felt rather forced – Porkpie makeshifting his jocular persona into that of a pulp protagonist’s – making the requisite action sequences and cop tete-a-tetes feel pretty weightless. The same could be said for the New York setting: the constant references to real streets and locales have the same effect as the dude who can’t stop telling you he lives in the city: while Porkpie is a legit figure there, the need to continually establish that wraps back around and creates a faux, TV version of NY.
There’s a fun idea and some cleverly contrived sequences in The Corpse Wore Pasties. Somewhere between this being Johnny Porkpie’s (I believe) first and only book, and the metatextual setup, the quality of the writing can’t quite support those ideas. Additional mileage after that may vary depending on your tolerance for a certain type of schmaltz.