The website of writer & artist Dan McNeil


Paul McDonald | 2004
18th February, 2021
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Imagine – and you’re a reader, it shouldn’t be too difficult – imagine a cross between Will Self and James Ellroy. No, don’t imagine a plot crossover, because then you’d be struggling personfully (look here, I’m Mr PC Personified, no passé man-isms from me) with something called Dorian Confidential, or Tough, Tough Toys For Tough And Violently Corrupt LAPD Cops Circa 1951. Instead, imagine a cross-pollination of prose between these two diverse literary talents. If you’ve not read Self or Ellroy, then you’ve clearly blundered onto this site as part of your tedious research into US male lipstick bands.

So, word-count-padding introductory paragraph dispensed with, let’s move onto the meat of the review: what’s this book about and is it any good? Firstly, some context. Paul McDonald’s debut novel was called Surviving Sting, and a highly amusing read it was too. Sardonic, quick-witted and philosophical, it grabbed by you by the throat, making you alternately choke and giggle. It too had a whiff of Self’s voluble verbosity; an odour of Ellroy’s demented staccato.

Kiss Me Softly, Amy Turtle is McDonald’s second novel; it’s at least as good as Surviving Sting and it stars the same location (Walsall) and protagonist (Dave McVane). Here, we find Reporter McVane, now an unpleasant boozehound. Morals, conscience and style don’t get a look in. Just another typical hack then.

Drying out in a hospital with a disturbingly high mortality count, and reflecting on how he got into such a state, the supremely odious yet curiously likeable McVane is soon seriously worried about his consultant Mr. Dunderdale, who may or may not be a fake doctor with a penchant for S&M and murder. The S&M angle is explored in some delicious detail too, because McVane’s little sideline is making top of the range leather goods for discerning punters.

Mostly laugh aloud funny, but also dark and occasionally moving, Kiss Me Softly, Amy Turtle suffers slightly from being around fifty pages too long. Only slightly, for in truth what we have here is another depressingly easy looking demonstration of McDonald’s sardonic and hyperreal prose.

Yes indeed, this is a very good book.

© Dan McNeil 2004
[This review first appeared in Ink Magazine]