Category Archives: Fiction

The World According to Shelf Barker

An excerpt from Laura Harrison McBride’s mystery novel, Car Full of Death: A quirky British Mystery Romp.

“I have been a driving instructor for almost a decade now, since shortly after
it became dangerous to be alone with those who might possibly be on a
government watch list: Muslims, Mafia operatives, people who had protested
government activities…in short, types one often finds within the crumbling
corridors of ancient university buildings. But that makes it all the more
interesting. The dual controls have come in useful more than once, although
that one Iranian man is suing me for breaking his nose.”

“She did much less well with her month of the Finnish tongue…not that many
people know what pidgin Finnish sounds like. How many Finns are there? Funny
you should ask…so I looked it up. Only a little over five million. It would be
tough to hear Finnish outside Finland. It’s similar to Estonian, though, and
related to Hungarian, which sounds very different. How do I know this? Recall,
I was a professor. I looked it up. You thought professors just KNEW all that
stuff? Hah. Mainly, we are really good at looking stuff up.”

 “By the way, just so you know, my vocabulary has grown considerably since I
met my wife. Anyone who grows up in New York City, the world’s melting pot,
learns not only their own ethnic slang, but the ethnic slang of other cultures
they are rubbing shoulder with 24/7. Tchotchkes is a Yiddish word meaning
small (annoying) useless objects, the sort of thing you find in your old
Gran’s house, since she has doubtless reached the age where moving all that
crap around and dusting it constitutes the sum total of the week’s
excitement….I realize all this sounds horribly bigoted or maybe even ageist,
but it isn’t. It is simple fact. Old folks don’t work, so they dust.”

 “I always thought they didn’t let wildly pregnant women fly because of
possible damage to the baby, or maybe she’d end up spreading her legs in the
aisle if the pressure changes opened the birth canal. That would be so
inconvenient, I always thought, because then they couldn’t get the
pay-per-drink beverage cart down the aisle. I figure his accountants told Sir
Richard not to let preggers broads on because he might go broke without that
extra four pounds fifty per head for firewater that they don’t give you on
planes anymore so you can forget you are squeezed into a germ-laden tube
hurtling through space and doing god-knows-what to your internal organs,
biological clock, and so forth. Make that six pounds fifty; the economy is
tanking, which means you can always get more shekels out of punters for booze.
Helps ease the pain, which is what my second glass of wine was doing, now that
the gulped-down first glass had hit behind my belt buckle.”

 

Car Full of Death

Car Full of Death, is the latest in the Shelf & Chloe Barker, murder mystery series.

Car Full of Death, by Laura Harrison McBride
Car Full of Death, by Laura Harrison McBride

Lurch through East Anglia, UK, with the most lovable D.I. (Driving Instructor) in history ever to become a P.I. (Private Investigator), and plunk his bum on a stool in Brooklyn, NY, eating Junior’s Cheesecake—real New York cheesecake….

Go with him as he attends a Mafia funeral to rival a royal wedding.

And then worry and scold like a Yiddishe mama as he risks life and limb to solve a murder best described as a dripper.

Driving instruction? Oh, yes. He does some of that, and his driving students are, well, unusual. Some won’t drive. Some won’t stop. Some kill things along the way to driving competence. Like author Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy, the antiques-dealer-turned-sleuth, Shelf Barker is an encyclopedia of oddness, but a lot less snarky.

But he is non-politically correct–or maybe a better way to say it is omni-ethnic–about it all.

So how DOES a mild-mannered Brit go from giving driving lessons to the great British public of terrified driving students to solving a double murder? He has help. Like Janet Evanovich’s almost helpless Stephanie Plum, Shelf works under the watchful eyes of two able helpers. One’s an Italian beauty who can barely boil pasta, and the other is one of his ex-wives whom he fondly compares to a deadly snake. Not exactly Stephanie Plum’s Ranger and Joe Morelli. More interesting.

He labours under myriad delusions, Shelf does, not least of which is that as a former university professor (his slide from grace has been bumpy), he knows everything about everything. Including English. When he chides his wife about her mistakes in English, she assures him her university studies taught her proper English. “I always add ‘proper AMERICAN English’,” he replies, “and that always gets me a fine Italian phrase in return, a sneer and sometimes a familiar hand gesture.” She probably learned the gesture from her Mafia forebears.

Go figure. Poor Shelf has to grapple with US idioms, suffer through the vagaries of British jurisprudence, and keep his astonishment hidden through an Italian funeral where bodies surf along Brooklyn roads and demented mafiosi retirees give the game away. To top it off, a central African warlord who sounds like Eddie Murphy in Coming to America plays a central role.

Still, Barker knows who he is, and isn’t embarrassed to tell. “I might once have been a world-class anthropologist….I might have. But I wasn’t. Just an ordinary bloke, educated beyond where it is wise to educate a member of the proletariat, trying to make a living.”

Barker is not a dab hand at handling a gun, but he can handle concepts just fine. And he has a fan-thing going for Lorena Bobbitt and her shorn husband, John. Remember them? Twenty years ago, Lorena trimmed her husband’s private parts a bit too close. “A fiction writer couldn’t come up with a better name for an egomaniacal American who fancied himself a matinee idol and who was shorn where it hurts—bobbed, you might say—than John Wayne Bobbitt,” Shelf notes.

Shelf has fun, he really does. See for yourself. He samples the best New York Cheesecake. He spends some quality time with the local constabulary. He falls in love. Again. And again? Maybe.

Out now on Kindle and in print.