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Jeffrey Hanlon
Founder of Zither Studios
A hilarious Mars Candiotti mystery: The case of the missing gazebos.
Hanlon’s off-the-wall detective caper finds Bay Area private investigator and not-so-successful mystery novelist Mars Candiotti is hired by a farmer, Pappy, in rural California to solve his next case: who stole 1,783.78 gazebos from Pappy’s farm? Mars sets out to crack the case, and if that doesn’t work out to finish his novel and finally achieve literary glory. His best friend and inept sidekick, Pete, and endless nuisance Celeste, pile in to Mars’s Yugo to join the detective’s absurd quest. Relying on shoe leather clue-gathering and the guidance from their wise (and proudly strange) IHOP waitress, the team find love, international intrigue, and discover just what in the world a gazebo is.

With a singularly playful narrative style, part hardboiled detective and part stand-up act (“What's the difference between a golf ball and a Yugo? You can drive the golf ball 200 yards”) Hanlon delves into the chimerical mind of “super-sleuth” Mars. Mars works tirelessly to become the hero worthy of a detective novel, but, at the same time, he’s often entirely deluded. Mars breaks the fourth wall of the narrative to speak directly to readers about the novel’s progress, his confusion, and his woes while also explaining these same things to his characters. Though the reader knows that Mars’s perception of reality is questionable, some interactions and thoughts still prove mind-bending--and occasionally tough to follow, with moments where it’s unclear what’s literally happening and what’s in his head.

The plot is truly whimsical: Hanlon himself makes a cameo from writer’s prison, Steven Seagal films are literal bombs, and John Travolta is a champion snorkeler and air guitarist. Some metafictional conceits, in this case an actual book-within-a-book, might throw off some readers, but with persistence, those open to a dada mystery will find Mars’s friends, imagination, and world utterly hilarious. Hanlon’s humor shines bright and will leave fans of such madness wanting more.

Takeaway: This mind-bending detective comedy delves into playful metafiction as a sleuth investigates the case of the missing gazebos.

Great for fans of: John Swartzwelder, Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

Production grades
Cover: C+
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A