Monday, November 27, 2006

Pufferfish's personality

I want to be Inspector Franz Heineken of the Tasmania Police Force, protagonist of David Owen's 1990s series and proud bearer of the nickname Pufferfish ("An ugly, poisonous scavenger known to bloat in times of distress," according to one description). OK, I want to be everything but the "ugly" part.
Pufferfish knows his boss is an oily, backstabbing careerist. Pufferfish recognizes that colleagues are vindictive and possibly bent. In X and Y, the third of the four books in the series, Pufferfish has been shot at and set up to take the fall for a drug bust gone wrong. But he's not bitter, and he's not haunted. John Rebus and Matt Scudder would sidle away from this guy at a bar. He's too psychologically healthy.
And that's what makes him such a standout protagonist. He works in a nest of vipers, but he's an amiable zoo guide, telling the reader about the snakes' habits, rather than worrying all the time about being swallowed up by them. His attitude of amusement leavens the contempt and anger enough to set him apart from the legions of police-procedural protagonists in similar situations. At the same time, he can survive very well among the reptiles, and he's not afraid to tell his boss where to get off, only in language a good deal coarser than that.
And his sense of humor ... I've been reading Shane Maloney's Murray Whelan novels, and Maloney's a wild man compared to Owen when it comes to jokes. A Murray Whelan joke can stretch near a page in length, pushing the reader to the brink of impatience before whomping him or her with the payoff. A Pufferfish joke is more likely to be a wisecrack slipped gently into the dialogue.
Heineken, under police guard, trying to persuade his minder join him for a fishing trip: "Don't you eat fish and chips?"
Heineken, on a colleague who wishes him no good: Of all the eyes that look at me, it's Boston's that talk. They're flat, without light and they wish to hell that I were well and truly dead. A-ha. Well, well.
As a bonus, X and Y functions very nicely as a thriller, as a hunted-man story, and as a mystery. It's shame Owen did not take the series beyond the four novels.

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Blogger Damien said...

A superb summation of Franz Heineken, Peter. I am also disappointed that Owen didn't expand the series.

One of the aspects of the series that really appeals to me is the way Heineken revels in the discomfort he causes to others, particularly his subordinates Rolf and Rufus. His attempts at catching the two off-guard by bursting into their office always amused me.

I think it's time we asked David Owen to forget about those non-fiction books about Tassie and concentrate on fiction about Pufferfish.

November 28, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks. Yes, and that collective name for them -- Rolfus -- is a delicious touch.

The thing is, Owen also manages, at least in X and Y, to build a compelling plot around this character. The novel is not just a bundle of quirks. I should finish the book today, and then I'll read The Devil Taker pretty soon. I just ordered the other two books from New Zealand.

November 28, 2006  
Anonymous Karen C said...

You're both very right - the sly, winding up of Rolfus is one of the ongoing joys of those books, as is the fact that there is an ongoing plot. Although I do wonder about somebody that can live in a succession of borrowed / rented properties with only a trunk to their name (I'd need a semi-trailer for books alone)

I'm really pleased you're enjoying the Pufferfish novels Peter, they've been a long term favourite of mine as well.

November 28, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

One could do a small study of the distinctive comic touches in X and Y: Rolfus, Pufferfish's frequent moves, etc. Maybe I'll make a post to that effect once I've read at least another one of the books. And look: I'm in the U.S., and I ordered two of them from Australia and two from New Zealand. That's dedication, friends!

November 28, 2006  
Blogger colman said...

I am about 60 pages into PIGS HEAD so far........I don't write reviews or tend to analyse what I read too much, so my thoughts on this or any other book dont bear any weight..........still its enjoyable, not laugh out loud funny.I find myself empathising with Pufferfish and I'm curious to find out more about him,and see how the plot unfolds.
What I've read so far, makes me want to pick up the next books in the series,which is just as well as I have two of the others and the missing title is on its way to me.
One of the benefits of checking into blogs like this and the forums on CRIME DOWN UNDER and AUSTRALIAN CRIME website,is picking up threads on writers like David Owen, who a month ago never even registered on my radar.
Karen first mentioned him, then I read the reviews Damien had previously posted on his website...bang....a great "new" writer discovered.

November 29, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Well, sure your thoughts bear weight. You've said Pufferfish is a sympathetic character, which is probably the most prominent feature of the books. He's a prickly, difficult character who is nonetheless sympathetic.

I agree with you about the benefits of blogs and forums. I had never heard of David Owen or Pufferfish a few weeks ago. Now I've read the third in the series, the fourth is waiting, and the first two are on the way.

November 29, 2006  
Blogger colman said...

finished PIGS HEAD this morning and it didnt disappoint.Gonna double up on Aus fiction by picking up the first SHANE MALONEY next

November 30, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Looks like you and I are doing similar reading in reverse order. I read Maloney first, then David Owen. I started with the fourth and fifth Murray Whelan novels, and I've ordered the first three. I read the third Pufferish, am about to read the fourth, and will read the first two when they arrive.

I think I may make a post comparing Maloney's and Owen's styles of humor. There is an excellent chance that I will enough light to read these humorous novels during my shift on the picket line.

November 30, 2006  

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