A surreal, affectionate homage to the private eye detective popularised by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Jack Kairo is a one-man show which rewards fans of the hardboiled school of crime writing in particular. The hard-drinking and wise-cracking Kairo (Simon Toal, right) steps out of a case – literally, a suitcase – and into a case that involves the murder of a General Rumsfeld, the solving of which leads him, via the obligatory femme fatale, a butler-cum-Satan called Cheney and a deranged scientist called Hans Blix, to uncover the real reason for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Directed by Nicole Rourke, the production strikes the correct note of heartfelt but shambolic endeavour, with cues being deliberately missed and the soundtrack at times drowning out Kairo’s witless musings. Toal, performing his own material, is the antithesis of the cool and cynical PI, constantly undermining his attempts to uncover the truth with his bumbling persona, a succession of well-timed prat-falls and exaggeratedly convoluted versions of the pithy one-liners associated with the genre. The backdrop to the ‘case’ feels a little dated at this point, and the satire of the Bush administration is clumsy, but Toal’s chameleon-like performance is hugely entertaining, with a note-perfect impersonation of film noir stalwart Peter Lorre the highlight. – Declan Burke
This review first appeared in the Sunday Times
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.