Once upon a time in Cleveland... Phil Derleth, a former Army "combat cartoonist," comes home to Cleveland, Ohio after a messy divorce. Phil is brain-damaged from a war wound and there are holes in his memory. His father Larry, a stone mason living on disability, takes him in. Soon enough, Phil finds himself embroiled in all sorts of trouble, including dodging the Ohio Department of Transportation, blood-stealing tramps, the ghost of his dead mother and stray dogs who are more than they appear to be. One stray in particular will show Phil the way back to a life that he may have forgotten.
Sheppard (Small Town Punk) follows an ingratiating sad-sack hero, Phil Derleth, in this episodic outing about a man starting over. Phil’s wife threw him out of their Chicago home, prompting him to move home to Cleveland with his widower dad, Larry, who calls him “dummy.” At 27, Phil has been out of the Army for a few years, having spent most of his four years of service recovering from a traumatic brain injury suffered during deployment in Iraq. Phil gets a job doing an overnight shift at a discount department store, Buy and Bye, where mopping up a pool of blood in one of the bathrooms leads to a nightmarish flashback. Phil’s injury continues to cause visions, which range from his recently deceased mother to a stray dog that shape-shifts into one of his army buddies. While Sheppard shines at locating telling details and during digressions, as when he depicts Larry’s trip to Chicago or imagines a TV sitcom called That Darned Dad, the plot remains loose and meandering. Though the novel feels underdone, as if Sheppard is approaching a point, but has not quite reached it yet, there’s ample evidence of the author’s talent. (Self-published)