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About this book
- Shortlisted for the Sixth Annual Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize - Literary Fiction Category!
Niall Howell's Only Pretty Damned is a taut noir that takes you behind the big top, revealing rough and tumble characters, murderous plots, and crooked schemes designed to keep Rowland’s World Class Circus afloat for another season. When Toby, former trapeze artist turned disgruntled clown, begins seeing Gloria, a young and beautiful dancer longing for a bigger role under the spotlight, his hardboiled past resurfaces. Can he live without Genevieve, his ex-trapeze partner and lover? What ruthless actions will he take to regain his position as the headlining act? And will Toby’s past repeat itself as he tries to untangle the ropes that bind him and take a leap to roaring applause?
Excerpt from Only Pretty Damned
It’s been three years since Wally Jakes died, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of the old bastard.
The other chumps around this place, well, I’m sure they think of Wally often too—at least the ones who were around during the infamous Jake-obean era—but not as often as I do. And certainly not in the same way as I do.
See, Wally had a personality that was an acquired taste in the same way that sucking vinegar from a mangy sponge is an acquired taste. Nobody could stand the guy. Nobody except me. But then, I have a high tolerance for all things acidic.
I respected Wally, though I could sure see why others had a hard time digesting him. He was loud-mouthed, crass, insensitive, and horribly opinionated. He rarely shaved or showered, and dental hygiene mattered to him about as much as arithmetic matters to a snowman. And if all that weren’t enough, Wally Jakes was also uglier than a couple of rats fucking on top of a pile of trash, which was partially due to a horse booting him square in the kisser when he was a kid, and partially due to him just being Wally Jakes. He was a natural pariah, born to be detested.
But as I said, I respected the guy. He wasn’t a performer, like me, but I think that once you got right down to it, he and I were pretty much the same. Now, I don’t mean to say that I’m a walking aerosolized can of human-repellant, like Wally, but on the inside, on the inside where it really mattered, we were the same. If you were to take a blade and carve us both down to our respective cores, once you scraped off all the pulpy muck and rinsed away the blood, you’d be staring at a matching set. Two of a kind. You see, like me, Wally did whatever needed to be done to keep things running around here. One day you’d see him tearing tickets, the next you’d see him cramming a suppository into an elephant’s ass. Whatever the task, if it needed to be done, Wally would do it. He knew damn well that the show mattered more than anything. More than anything at all.
"Told in the Hitchcockian tradition of the Film Noir, we follow Toby on a bizarre and dark trail of his life as a circus act. This character driven spectacle lets us peek behind the literal curtain of the theatre of the strange. Deception and desire drive the action in this unique who-done it-thriller. The suspense is visceral until the end."
“A captivating, engrossing, gothic noir that whisks the reader away and makes them feel as if they’re on the road with an old time travelling circus. The characters are complex, the prose rich, and riveting darkness abounds as the plot unfolds. A stellar debut from Niall Howell."
"Only Pretty Damned is a stark, powerful noir, steeped in the stifling heat of the American South and building slowly, inexorably, to a boil." full review
"Howell has penned a slow-burning piece of crime fiction, where Rowland’s grimy circus serves as a microcosm of the world at large—a place where unlikable characters are groomed to make a killing, whether inside the tent or out."
"Niall Howell crafts a convincingly gritty big-top underworld full of shady entertainers and unscrupulous grifters."
"This is a gritty novel that takes noir seriously." full review
"[S]olid from the first sentence—and this from someone who loathes the circus."
"[Howell] captured me from the first sentence and never fully let me go." full review
"Only Pretty Damned is a character-driven noir that throws the reader into the backstage crises of a traveling circus. Amidst the tension, the backstabbing, and the long-held resentments of performers toward one another, the reader is brought into Toby's taut and colorful world. You can almost smell the popcorn emanating from the crowds watching." full review
"[T]his deftly scripted and thoroughly reader engaging story showcases the writer's genuine flair for originality, memorable characters, and more plot twists and turns than a carnival roller coaster." full review
"Only Pretty Damned announces the arrival of a formidable new talent in Canadian literature."