Editor’s Note: In a rather pleasing development, the sub-sub-genre of Irish crime writing seems to be throwing up some writers who are either maverick geniuses (genii?) or permanently bombed out of their gourd. The first such to come to my attention was the redoubtable Captain Joseph Barbelo with BARBELO’S BLOOD; the latest crazily shining rough diamond is Alexander O’Hara, aka Darragh McManus. To wit:
Origins: COLD! STEEL!! JUSTICE!!!
Okay, this might get a little confusing. My name is Darragh McManus and I’ve just published a comic crime novel called COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!! Except the author is actually called Alexander O’Hara, and the book was originally called The Nutcracker. And wasn’t a book at all, but a movie script.
Sorry. Let me start over. COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!! has just been self-published by me (as in Darragh) as an e-book at Amazon.com for Kindle and Smashwords.com for other formats. I used the Alexander O’Hara nom du guerre to differentiate “funny me” from “serious me”; as has been discussed here before, the “industry” doesn’t like eclecticism in writers. So I thought, what the hell, I’ll just invent a new writer altogether.
The bumpf – written either by Darragh or Alexander, I actually can’t remember anymore – goes something like this: “COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!! is a rollicking, rocking riot of raw, roaring reading, about renegade detective Christian Beretta, his resurrected-from-the-dead sweetheart, his partner with an over-eating problem, and the evil Mayor who wants control of the drugs trade – and wants Beretta deader than dead… In Paradise City, all hell is about to break loose!”
And the whole thing of the film script? Our story begins – and the story began – all the way back in 1999 during downtime in my first real job. There was a lot of downtime, and The Nutcracker was a lot of fun to write. (The title, by the way, refers to our hero’s trademark method of “interrogation”: squeezing the baddies’ testicles in a tourniquet. It gets results, dammit!).
I basically took every cliché I could think of, from every piss-poor, straight-to-video 1980s cop movie I’d ever seen, and played around with them. End result: something like The Naked Gun crossed with The Simpsons crossed with Monty Python crossed with that drunken conversation in the pub one night about which Z-list actor you’d cast in a remake of Bloodfist 9: The Killening.
So you’ve got a loose cannon cop who’s been kicked off the force for – yes – being “just too violent”. And a grizzled Italian Chief of Police, feisty and beautiful journalist girlfriend, tubby black sidekick who’s a solid family man, sleazy Mexican drug lord, camp European assassin, deranged media billionaire, huge-toothed chat-show host, insanely sexy femme fatale who wears rubber cat-suits quite often, and so on and so forth.
For Beretta, I wanted a guy who looked, sounded and acted more-or-less like Dirty Harry having an especially bad goddamn day. But better-looking, and considerably dumber, and probably a wee bit more warm-hearted, underneath all the macho bluster. His name had to reflect that, so I picked something both tough (Beretta, as in the pistol) and soft (Christian, or Chris as he’s known to loved ones – this sounds like the name of a tousle-haired little boy, or that cuddly, bespectacled man in your office who always wears a colourful tie with short-sleeved shirts.)
Then I took all these eejits and started writing about them; it was pretty much as simple as that. Of course, I needed a storyline of some sort, on which to hang all the surreal lines, slapstick gags, amusing non-sequiturs and self-referential in-jokes. So I thought to myself, what are these dreadful movies always about? Answer: a big drugs deal, generally involving “the merchandise”.
That was about it, and that was about all I needed. The plot, amazingly, made some sense by the time I’d finished; it had structure and pacing, things happened in a vaguely chronological order, there was a beginning, middle and end. Too many spoofs, I’ve since been told, concentrate on japery at the expense of an actual storyline; The Nutcracker had one, albeit the most daft and ridiculous storyline you’ve ever encountered.
You want a mad Kerry-born Mayor who wants to televise the trial and execution of criminals? You got it. An army of castrated international guns-for-hire, led by a man called Englebert who bears a disturbing resemblance to a young Julian Sands? You got that, too. A conversation between our heroes that lasts for fifteen minutes, during which they’re continuously taking the longest pee in history? Sure, why not. A flashback scene where Beretta enters a moment of Zen totality and shoots six ducks from the sky without looking? What the hell, let’s throw that in there as well.
Eventually, the thing was written. I sent it to Roger Corman’s long-time associate, Frances Doel; she was charming and friendly on the phone and I never heard from her again. A few other producer types had nice things to say about it, but I kind of realised after a while that The Nutcracker, as a movie, fell uncomfortably between two stools: too stupid to be respected, too clever to sell to a stupid movie audience.
Readers, though, are a different kettle of fish. Despite what the “industry” might presume, readers like all sorts of things from books. They like to be challenged. And when it comes to comedy, they don’t necessarily want all the jokes teed up 15 minutes beforehand, then quickly followed by canned laughter, real or metaphorical, to really hammer the point home. They’re okay, I think – I hope? – with a book that’s dumb but clever in its dumbness but dumb in its cleverness but simultaneously clever and dumb.
So I took the original script and fleshed it out as a novel, adding descriptive prose, more dialogue, inner monologue, character motivation, and about eight thousand fresh jokes. Well, when I say “fresh”, I mean “not in the original script”. They’re not fresh in the sense that I – and, indeed, other writers – haven’t used them before. More than once.
Finally, I changed the title. The Nutcracker was a bit vague and allusive; it made sense, and was amusing, to me, but I didn’t know that everyone else would get it, or like it. At least not until they got to the actual nut-cracking part, round about the end of Chapter 5. So I racked my brains for something that captured the dumbness, crassness, obviousness and weird obsession with exclamation marks that characterise all my favourite rubbish ‘80s cop flicks. You know, masterworks like Unkillable Bastard!, Rampage of Destruction IV!!, and of course, Gutz ‘n’ Bulletz 2: The Return of Fat Larry!
The end result was COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!!: the book of the movie of the comic of the book of the screenplay of the movie of the game of the TV show. Of the book. And it’s funny: DEAD FUNNY. Guaranteed, you will laugh at least once per paragraph. That’s right, PER PARAGRAPH – no mealy-mouthed “per page” promises here – or your money back. (Note: guarantee is not a guarantee. CAP accepts full responsibility for any disappointment caused. Caveat emptor, terms & conditions apply, exit on your left, etc etc etc.)
And so here we are: me, Alex, Christian, India the fiery girlfriend, Spud the tubby sidekick, O’Flannigan the crazy Mayor, the castrated assassins, the Oedipal-fixation Mexican gangster who gets incinerated in his own car to the strains of Herb Alpert playing The Girl from Ipanema … and hopefully a whole bunch of you, the paying customer.
Welcome to Dice City, everybody. Where justice walks tall, quips smart, busts shit up on a regular basis and totes a hand-cannon so fucking enormous that the toting itself carries a minimum ten years. Cold! Steel! Justice!!!: sooner or later, everybody gets delivery of theirs. Fuck yeah!!
Thanks for listening, Darragh. (PS: I mean Alexander. I think.)
COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!! by Alexander O’Hara is published on Kindle.
“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. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “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. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.