If The Trouble with Hairy were a movie, it would probably be rated ‘R’-for language, for violence, and for sexual content.
And even as a novel, I would suggest that it merits an ‘R’ rating as well-for riotous, for raucous, and for ribald.
The basic plot of the novel is serious. Someone, or some thing, is brutally, viciously, and gorily murdering gay men; and it is up to captain Clive Anderson and his compatriots, coroner Becky O’Brien and city manager Pamela Burman, to discover what the victims had in common and, from that clue, who the murderer is.
But, of course, there is more to this novel than that single rather noir plot. The setting is West Hollywood … and an over-the-top West Hollywood at that (if such a thing is even possible). True, three men have died, but public outcry ignores that awful fact and concentrates on the even more savage, even more despicable, even more horrifying murder of over thirty – over thirty -pets.
Well, this is after all a version of West Hollywood which the mostly useless mayor, Daniel Eversleigh, has publicly designated as a safe haven for cuddly creatures. So Anderson is charged with a dual task. In his spare time, as it were, to track down the killer of the three men; but as a matter of principle see to it that the ruthless slayer of cats, dogs, and one pet pig is brought to justice … even if that means a public hanging and emasculation.
Things are not totally grim for poor Anderson, however, because he has several additional helpers: Chris Driscoll, a centuries-old vampire; his century-old ‘renfield,’ the precocious, slightly perverse, and often precious Troy Raleigh; and his web of human and non-human contacts, including a vampire even older than he is.
When it becomes clear that the murderer – or is that murderers? – is/are werewolves, the entire assemblage of humans and non-humans, straights and gays, males and females (and one transvestite) must ignore their differences and work together to solve the crimes.
Unfortunately, that involves wholesale wreckage of several apartments, treated with all of the intricate detail of thirties screwball-comedy-cum-slapstick-farce; an uproarious (in several senses) scene between a naïve werewolf, a waiter wielding a silver tray, and an underdone steak in an up-scale restaurant; several traffic accidents that essentially pulverize cars and undeserving public statuary; the wholesale conflagration of pigeons roosting on the wrong power line; and more witty badinage than any of the situations could logically call for.
The climactic scene involves a renegade werewolf that despises gays of any species; a pseudo-vampiric, quasi-immortal renfield desperately trying to regain his lover’s affections; the cross-dressing lover of an outcast gay werewolf; and a silver-plated umbrella studded with silver flatware super-glued to the ferrule. When one character inadvertently inserts the umbrella into…but no, you’ve got to read that passage for yourself to believe it.
As outrageously comic as it is, The Trouble with Hairy contains at heart a serious exploration of how individuals handle differences in others, how prejudices hamper and distort relationships, and how understanding truth can assuage even the most desperate inner fears. The novel does not preach; the tone is wrong for that. But as each character discovers important things about himself/herself/itself, readers can watch those relationships grow, develop, and (in all but one instance) alter individuals for the better.
Above all, however, The Trouble with Hairy is a romp, a gambol, a frolic. And it should be enjoyed as such.
Editor’s Note: Michael R. Collings is a best-selling novelist, essayist, and poet. His writings are available here at Collings Notes and as the website for JournalStone Publications (journalstone.com), where he serves as Senior Publications Editor.