“So what was this exactly? That you were doin’? Some kinda strip show?” said Officer Brooklyn.
“Some kinda titty show?” echoed Officer Bronx
I love Hard Case Crime. This is a publisher who’s committed–heart and soul–to reviving long-lost pulp and crime titles, but at the same time, the brains at Hard Case don’t vegetate in the past; many of their titles are new, and this brings me to The Corpse Wore Pasties by Jonny Porkpie. Just in case you don’t know, the type of pasties we are talking about are those tiny adhesive nipple patches worn by strippers and burlesque dancers (my favourite pasties are sequins with tassels, but I digress). Now there’s a world of difference between strippers and burlesque dancers–just ask the book’s author, Jonny Porkpie, “The Burlesque Mayor of New York.” Stripping…that’s about heavy breathing and dollar bills. Burlesque, well that’s a time tested art form.
Porkpie (who takes his last name from the type of hat he wears) must be a very busy man. In his real life (in other words–anything not inside the pages of his first novel), Porkpie also co-produces Pinchbottom Burlesque with his Missus.– Nasty Canasta. I’d hazard a guess that Porkpie is a really interesting character as he unabashedly places himself in his novel with a generous dollop of self-deprecating humour. To take the piss out of oneself takes a strong, confident personality, and Porkpie does just that, and he does it well with The Corpse Wore Pasties–a light-hearted, entertaining, slick, crime-centred romp through the glamorous world of burlesque:
“I’m not talking baggy-pants comedian. Some have called me a no-pants comedian, but that’s not entirely accurate either. My acts tend towards the humorous, sure, but when push comes to shove, and bump comes to grind, I’m the same sort of burlesque performer that Sally Rand was, or Gypsy Rose Lee–though they had certain assets that I lack. And that particular pair of assets might, to an audience be the ones more likely to inspire lust than laughter.”
The novel opens in an East Village bar with a Dreamland burlesque show, and Porkpie is the host for the evening’s performances, replacing Dreamland’s regular producer and host, LuLu LaRue. This should be an easy gig for Porkpie, but things begin to go wrong when Victoria Vice unexpectedly appears to join the line-up of performers. Victoria is the “rare performer that absolutely nobody liked,” not only is she a first-rate bitch, but she’s a “thief” and a “plagiarist.” And in burlesque, this is “the worst kind of thief you can be.” Many other burlesque performers have suffered from Victoria’s “creative larceny;” she’s notorious for visiting shows and ripping off acts. So when Victoria appears to join the evening’s line up, the atomsphere in the ad-hoc chaotic, changing room shifts to rage. And before the evening is over, someone ends up dead.
Although there are no lack of suspects, Porkpie manages to top the list, and after a brush with the cops, he decides that as number 1 suspect, he’d better try solving the crime himself. Against the sage advice of his ever-patient wife, Nasty Canasta, Porkpie plunges into the investigation in true noir style. Soon Porkpie is questioning burlesque characters such as: Brioche a Tete, Cherries Jubilee, Eva Desire, Angelina Blood, and Jillian Knockers. Can it be any wonder that he finds himself “running at top speed across the Brooklyn Bridge, half-naked, in the middle of the night, pursued by all five members of a heavy metal band.”?
I have a weakness for Hard Case titles that blend crime with a large dose of humour (Somebody Owes Me Money, Fifty-to-One), so for my twisted tastes, The Corpse Wore Pasties was a delightful, funny read. I began the book knowing next to nothing about burlesque, and I learned a few things about the biz–including the meaning of the term “sexual misdirection.” This diverting pulp novel, with its lurid elements added to just a hint of camp, is a great deal of tongue-in-cheek fun (my favourite part is when Porkpie is questioned by the cops). I looked forward to this title for months, and it was exactly what I hoped it would be–an entertaining, behind-the-scenes look at the world of burlesque:
“Look, I don’t want to discourage anyone from buying a ticket, but if you’re going to be one of those men who sits alone, refuses to take off his outerwear even when the air-conditioning is broken, wears dark glasses and leather gloves, doesn’t brush his hair or beard, and keeps trying to catch a glimpse of the girls getting dressed backstage…if you’re going to be one of those guys, maybe a downmarket West Side Highway strip club would be more to your tastes than a night of burlesque. Burlesque is a different monster altogether. It’s more about wit than anything that rhymes with wit; more about cleverness than any other c-word. Burlesque is a matter of brains over boobs… which, I suppose, is the standard arrangement, but you get my point. One creep in the audience working a Show World 1977 vibe could potentially sour the room.”
I sincerely hope that this won’t be a one-shot wonder, and that Porkpie has more novels up his sleeves or perhaps even in his Super Jonny Porkpie outfit….