The Circumstantial Man By Gary Reilly

Running Meter Press was established in 2012 to publish novels left behind by Gary Reilly when he died. During his lifetime Reilly had published only one short story and no novels. The Circumstantial Man (255 pp., paper) marks the twelfth posthumous Gary Reilly novel Running Meter has published in the last six years: a trilogy about his time in the United States Army as a military policeman; the Private Palmer novels: and eight novels about Murph, a Denver taxi cab driver (The Asphalt Warriors series).

The Circumstantial Man is a stand-alone novel about Pete Larkey, a sad sack who is divorced, out of work, and the owner of an automobile that has a dead battery. Pete is so much of a sad sack that he doesn’t think of wiggling battery cables to see if that would enable him to start his car. Throughout this novel—which chronicles the various misadventures that this failure brings down on his benighted head—Pete takes himself to task for not knowing how to do this and for failing to do it.

The publishers of this fine novel call it a suspense thriller, which I think is not really accurate.  This is a novel of the modern human condition. Late in the book, Pete says, “In my experience, things related to hope rarely work out.”  There are many such pronouncements by Pete, and I jotted many of them down.

He sometimes is capable of looking on the bright side, though. For instance, Reilly has him digging at gunpoint what he thinks will be his own grave, and he remarks that at least the soft soil is easy to penetrate with his shovel. We learn a lot about how the world works, at least the world that Pete inhabits, which is a world very similar to my own.

There are many references in this novel to the time that Pete spent in the Army. At one point, he notes that incarceration is similar to service in the military.

He mentions Audie Murphy twice and Grendel and Beowulf once each. He quotes Jack Kerouac as saying that the Army “couldn’t hire shits to push mops, make beds, KP.”  Pete also debates the differences between Skippy peanut butter and Peter Pan. He prefers Skippy. The villain who holds him at gunpoint prefers Peter Pan because, he says, Skippy tastes too much of peanuts.

The publishers tell us that there won’t be another novel featuring Pete Larkey, but there will soon be another novel with Murph the cab driver as the hero.

I can’t wait.

For more info on Reilly and his literary output go to the publisher’s website.

—David Willson

Dark Night of the Soul by Gary Reilly

 

Dark Night of the Soul (Running Meter Press, 226 pp., $14.95, paper) is the sixth book in Gary Reilly’s Asphalt Warrior series. Reilly was drafted into the U. S. Army during the Vietnam War and served two years, one of which was in Vietnam as an MP.

Gary Reilly died of colon cancer in 2011. I’ll always suspect that Agent Orange is the culprit that did him in.

He left twenty-five unpublished books. The ones I have read, all of the Asphalt Warrior series published so far—along with the first novel in his Vietnam War-related series—support the contention of the Denver Post that Reilly is a master wordsmith. All of Reilly’s books provoke me to laugh out loud—and I am not easily provoked.

The hero of this book (and of all those that preceded it in this series), is Murph, a Denver cab driver who grapples with a world that always challenges him. Very soon in this novel, Murph informs the reader that it has been twenty-five years since he had dashed around in the Army in a panic due to sergeants and bugles.

“My two years in the Army alone would fill the Encyclopedia of Goldbricking,’ Murph confesses. Another of Murph’s pronouncements: “The only benefit to hard work is money.” I won’t argue with the wisdom of that.

He also says: “I was the living embodiment of pure evil.”

That was one of the Murphy’s lines that made me laugh out loud. A little old lady was in the hospital with cardiac arrest accusing Murph of threatening to hit her for trying to pay him with a pan full of pennies. We know he did no such thing, but the police do not.

I am already looking forward to reading Book Seven in this series: Pickup at Union Station. Chapter one of Pickup is included at the end of Dark Night of the Soul. The noire-ish title is supported by this chapter, which provides Murph and us with a European corpse in the backseat of his cab. Murph knows he will be blamed and once again subjected to the scrutiny of the Denver police.

I highly recommend the new Murph book, but I suggest you buy and read all the others first. Is that necessary to enjoy and appreciate this book?  Not at all, but you’ll be a better and a happier person if you do so.

Laughter is rare in this age of Ebola, so take it where you find it.  I wish Reilly were still alive to write about that subject. He’d extract many laughs from it. As his biggest fan, I have no doubt.

The publisher’s website for Reilly’s books is http://theasphaltwarrior.com

—David Willson

The Enlisted Men’s Club by Gary Reilly

In my review of Gary Reilly’s five Asphalt Warrior novels I lamented that his unpublished books based on his tour of duty in Vietnam still languished in his steamer trunk. I am happy to announce that the first of these novels—The Enlisted Men’s Club (Running Meter Press, 372 pp., $18.95, paper)—is now in print. I wish Gary Reilly had not chosen to stash these novels to be published until after his death, because I would have liked for him to read the positive reviews that his books are getting.

I raved about how good the five Asphalt Warrior novels were. The Enlisted Men’s Club is as good, or better. It is a darker novel for sure, but with plenty of humor. All we have been told about Reilly’s death is that it was caused by cancer. Now that I am reading his series of military novels, wonder if he died of Agent Orange-related cancer.

Reilly was drafted into the Army, and served a year in Vietnam as an MP. The Enlisted Men’s Club is filled with the dry, sardonic observations that made his first five books a delight to read. The U. S. Army during the Vietnam War was made for an observer like Gary Reilly, and his doppelganger main character, Private Palmer.

The nature of modern war gets close scrutiny in this book; Palmer is mostly in San Francisco stationed at The Presidio awaiting orders for Vietnam, what Palmer calls “these times which are moving fast but without momentum toward the war in Vietnam.”

Gary Reilly

The war hangs heavy over every event in this novel, like the damp, thick fog that is endemic to The Presidio and the entire San Francisco Bay area. Reilly’s considerable skill with narrative makes this doom-laden book always engrossing. ‘

Even though Palmer is assured countless times that “MP’s don’t die in Vietnam,” he is convinced that death will be his fate.

Palmer takes great pleasure in being an Army MP. It’s his dream job. As Reilly puts it: “He likes being told what to do like a mindless puppet, as the hippies say, and going where somebody points him, and doing what they tell him to do.”

I enjoyed that aspect of military life myself. On the other hand, “Palmer can see quite clearly that Vietnam is going to be a crock of shit.” He got that right.

This novel is free of the usual clichés that are so wearisome in novels and memoirs written by Vietnam veterans. One of my favorite scenes in the book comes near the end when Palmer is readying himself to be transported to Vietnam. He is approached by a seventeen-year-old barefoot hippy girl with stringy but clean hair. She invites him to join an antiwar rally. He informs her that he can’t as he will be in Vietnam by then.  She does not call him names or spit on him. She is sweet and saddened by this announcement.

Private Palmer drinks a lot of beer, and spends a lot of time conniving to dodge “shit details” which he hates, as did all of us who served in the Army—things like sweeping already clean floors and polishing already surgically clean toilets.

The publisher calls Reilly a “master story teller,” and that fact is even more apparent in this novel than in the previous five. I highly recommend The Enlisted Men’s Club to those who wish to enjoy a book about the last weeks before a young man ends up in Vietnam, convinced he will die there.

The book I am really looking forward to is his next one, the in-country Vietnam War novel that will provide Reilly the best material for his sardonic wit.

—David Willson