Copies of the first three books in the Asphalt Warrior series were provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
And bless the publisher, because I might never have heard about Gary Reilly’s books without this opportunity. I am now a major fan of Denver cab driver Brendan Murphy, known as Murph in his fictional world.
Murph is introduced as a radical minimalist (and an unpublished novelist/screenwriter with a degree in English) who only wants to earn enough to maintain a lifestyle that consists of living in a “crow’s nest” apartment, frying a hamburger every evening, washing his dish, then channel surfing to find reruns of Gilligan’s Island (mostly the ones where Maryann spends a lot of time on screen).
Murph also vows never to get involved in the life of his fares, and that’s the one he has the most trouble with. In The Asphalt Warrior, he meets Tony, a barber who’s worried about what his wife might be doing behind his back. Murph gets hired to play detective and through an odd twist of fate, ends up working for the wife, Angelina, who knows her husband is having financial troubles and wants to solve them at the track.
“I was surprised at how quickly I became adept at small talk fourteen years ago when I first started hacking. After I became a cabbie I discovered that it was like being an actor. I discovered that behind the wheel of a cab I fell into a certain role depending on the personality of my customer. I realized that people expected me to be someone I wasn’t–a cabbie. They expected me to be streetwise and hip to things the average Joe didn’t know. I was a Hollywood cliche to them. I was a cardboard cut-out. I wasn’t me. I liked that. People paid me to be a fraud. It was a dream come true.”
Ticket to Hollywood features a pretty young woman dressed as a 20s flapper who leaves something behind in Murph’s cab…and then disappears. The woman’s father is looking for her and has the money to lure Murph into handling the search and an odd kind of intervention. The police are in the mix as well, and until someone finds the missing Alicia Hightower, there are suspicions Murph might have had something to do with her disappearance. His suspension from the cab company gives him a bit of free time.
“I was at that place where The Little Dream comes true, The Little Dream is an adjunct to The Big Dream which is to get rich writing a novel. The Little Dream is to find some free time to write, and by the looks of things, I was going to be writing for a long time.”
The Heart of Darkness Club is about a young man named Trowbridge who keeps showing up in Murph’s life as he moves his decreasing number of possessions from apartment to apartment. Is Trowbridge suicidal? A guy about to pull a disappearing act? Or does he go missing due to foul play? The police want to know, and once again Murph is drawn into the kind of situation he desperately tries to avoid.
“I chortled. This is a problem that I frequently suffer from: objectivity. When I find myself in a situation that could objectively be described as ‘ludicrous,’ I often chortle as though I were viewing myself as a character in a movie. Specifically, a comedy. Like a member of a theater audience watching Laurel and Hardy walking inattentively toward an open manhole, I start laughing before anything funny has actually happened. The problem is that in real life, laughing inexplicably can be unnerving to nearby people, such as bus passengers, bank customers, and cops.”
Murph’s philosphy is gently cynical, his actions often caring although carried out against his better judgement, and his introspection perceptive. The dialogue is snappy and fast-moving. And the stories are laced with just the right amount of narrative featuring Murph’s inner dialogue.
These three novels are available now, and I hear rumors that the next two will be released this fall. Gary Reilly finished ten Murph stories before he passed away. Thanks to his good friends and a smart publisher, we’re getting to read them anyway.
You’ll find an interesting post about Gary Reilly and his books at Denver Westword blogs: Gary Reilly: Prolific novelist’s debut published year after his death