Thursday, 6 May 2010

'Old Dogs' by Donna Moore

One Man's Opinion

Sometimes, when you read a book, you can sense the pleasure the author found in its writing and ‘Old Dogs’ certainly feels like one of those. To my mind, Donna Moore must have had a whale of a time putting this together.

It might not, however, have been as much fun for her as I imagined whilst I read. Given the structure of the story with its seamless flow from one passage to the next, the craft employed in engaging us with the characters and the action and the way she had me laughing, smiling and wincing through the book, there was probably a lot more sweat and a few more tears in the process than the end product suggests. Easy to read may not always mean easy to piece together.

The ‘Old Dogs’ of the title are a pair of jewel-encrusted, gold statues that are to be displayed in a Glasgow museum.

The exhibition has been put together by Megan, ex-curator of the museum and ex-lover of new curator Campbell Findlay. Seeking her revenge for her broken heart and her lost job, she stumbles into the opportunity of intercepting the statues upon their delivery and therefore humiliate said bastard. She can’t go and collect the objects as herself, of course, so she opts to wear her Dolly Parton costume without the fake boobs to the airport. With the museum pieces safely in her hands, she replaces them with ugly, concrete replicas that she made herself.

Meanwhile, ex-prostitutes and grifters Letty and Dora (a couple of very old dogs themselves) are busy employing staff to look after their incarnations as Signora Teodora Grisiola and La Contessa Letiziadi Ponzo. Having recently returned from a successful con in Australia, they are looking for one more job to help them ease into a retirement of boozing and biking.

Barry Sheehan is something of an old conman himself. He’s looking to get a job with the fake Italians as a chauffeur so that he can get in on their act. Fortunately for him, he is offered the work. Unfortunately, for a Rangers fan, he has to wear a uniform of green with gold trim.

Victor Stanislav is the Australian of indeterminate heritage who was humiliated by the sting of the old birds and is determined to get his revenge. A man of culture, he is also an ex-mercenary and ex-French Foreign Legionnaire. Until he hears of the golden dogs, he has only one thing on his mind - the utter destruction of Lette and Dora.

Raymie and Duncan are two of life’s unfortunates. They’re not blessed with a great deal other than the best lines in insults that could be imagined. Small-time crooks, they imagine opening up a pub and smoking beer-flavour fags from the money made form a museum heist.

Kyle is a young orphan who arrives in Glasgow to retrieve the dogs for the monastery from whence they came. His life has been spent on a small island, isolated from modernity and people. He is determined to succeed on his mission, learning all about robbery from a night watching crime-capers on TV.

It’s a big cast and Moore gives us a strong handle on each of them as their lives spin around the statues like out of control satellites.

Everyone converges on the museum on the same Saturday night to steal the dogs. From that point on, the lives of the characters are bound together for good.

The story unfolds from the point of view of these sets of characters, each of them high quality ingredients to this bubbly, explosive mix of a cocktail.

Told in short chunks from the point of view of the groups as mentioned, the passages flow naturally together whether in parallel, in opposition, when blended or overlapping. In this way Moore kept me engaged from start to finish. Echoes here of Bateman and ‘I Predict A Riot’.

There’s something old fashioned about the tale. It has a carefree-romping style which seems to come from another era, a golden age perhaps. This is best represented by our old ladies – they’ve seen it all, lived through tough times and change, they’re nostalgic and yet move through the decades with an easy acceptance. When they attend the races and have a flutter (on Two Way Split, no less), I wouldn’t have been surprised if one of these adorable Italian ladies had stood and bellowed ‘Move your bloomin’ arse’ in encouragement.

All the same, we are entirely working in modern times.

Moore has a delightful turn of phrase and, dare I say it, she swears more creatively than anyone I’ve come across. It’s as though she has a palette full of conventional abuse and a magic paintbrush with which she mixes them together to create something utterly unique and hilarious.

I’d like to make a special mention of Raymie and Dunc at this point. I loved all the characters, but these guys are worthy of another book to themselves. What a double act. They’re hot stuff. They use the funniest lines and their general stupidity is a joy to behold. Writing in dialect can rarely have been so engaging.

‘Old Dogs’ is a heist caper, a modern farce, an adventure, a Carry-On movie on acid. The twists and turns are impossible to predict and it is to her credit that no matter how ridiculous the sets of events might be she manages to make them seem entirely credible, in part because the motives of all those who inhabit the book are so deeply believable.

She’s clearly read a huge array of books and enjoyed a wide-range of movies in her time. More than that, she’s been able to take all of the influences and put them together in a way that is entirely fresh and very much of her own style.

A couple of points to get out of the way before I go.

I bought a copy of the book on the back of recommendations from Twitter and a number of blog reviews. I'm delighted I paid attention. If I'd been browsing in a bookshop and seen the cover I might have ignored it completely. It's not to my taste. 'Don't judge a book by its cover' has rarely seemed so appropriate.

With regard to the cover, I see that the book is to be published soon by 'Busted Flush' in the United States and that they have gone for an altogether different piece of artwork. I hope that in the same way that they've improved the way it looks, they'll give it a thorough proof-read and correct some of the mistakes. It's a small gripe, I know, but there are a large handful of errors in the production that should have been ironed out by someone at Max Crime. It shouldn't put anyone off buying their copy, but there are a few breaks in the author's fine flow that didn't need to be there.

Gripe over.

It's a terrific piece that's' easy to recommend.

‘Old Dogs’ should be winning a few prizes here and there as best of breed based on the sheer entertainment and hilarity it offers

Donna Moore? Yes please.


  1. Yep, it's a brilliant book. Pure joy. I told Donna I thought it was like a sweary Ealing Comedy and she was pleased with that description!

  2. Just seen that you've ben picked to be one of the WGI participants. Congrats.

  3. Nigel - thank you for your very kind review. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. And the whole thing was a lot of fun to write, but I REALLY enjoyed writing Duncan and Raymie :o)Thanks again.

  4. Paul, thanks for noticing. I'm excited about it, though with the subject being baseball I'm not sure I pulled it off.
    Donna, Lovely to see you here. Loved the book and look forward to the next.