Old friends: “Molly Tunstall”

One of the funniest books I ever read was SHOVELING SMOKE by Austin Davis, published by Chronicle Books in 2003. Austin Davis was a pseudonym for Steve Garrison, a college professor in Edmond, Oklahoma. Garrison apparently is still writing. Quoting results of a recent Google search:

 “Steve Garrison’s novel Shoveling Smoke was published under the pseudonym ‘Austin Davis’ by Chronicle Books in 2003.  He is currently working on a novel set in a small Oklahoma town in the mid-1960s.  A professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Central Oklahoma, Garrison is married to Dr. Constance Squires, the director of the M.F.A. degree program in writing at UCO.”

The book is out of print but still available through Amazon.com. You can read excerpts at Google Books: http://tinyurl.com/7gk9v6f

 Here’s my review, first published in 2003:

 SHOVELING SMOKE by Austin Davis

Chronicle Books 2003

Reviewed by Pat Browning

I kept putting this book down so I could laugh without spilling coffee all over it. Maybe I have a warped sense of humor, or maybe I just love goofy places likeJenks,Texas– “a one-horse town with a two-block business district and a Dairy Queen.”

Clay Parker’s first day in Jenks would send most people running for their lives. Clay, who burned out as a tax lawyer in Houston, has no place to go except to his new job at the offices of Chandler and Stroud, neither of whom is anywhere in sight when he arrives.

Gilliam Stroud’s in the drunk tank. Hardwick Chandler has dallied with a woman who handcuffed him to the bed before walking out. (This will not be the worst that happens to him. At a later rendezvous with the same woman, he’s kicked half-senseless by an emu.)

This law firm makes melting Jell-O look substantial, but somebody has to show up in court to defend a client who has already confessed to murder.

That leaves secretary Molly Tunstall and Clay, who blew Houston with no shoes except the flip-flops he’s wearing, to bail out Stroud and prop him up long enough to get the client off. A rambling wreck of a once-great trial lawyer, Stroud can still deliver the goods, drunk or sober.

Clay Parker is a likeable character, trying to find his footing. A sleazy client is about to pullChandlerand Stroud into a malpractice suit involving insurance fraud. Clay gets a crash course in ways to make dirty money as a horse trader and cow kiter. He learns firsthand some of the wild and wonderful ways that lawyers, clients, judges and expert witnesses can screw up a case.

 As someone who worked for 20 years in a country law office, I sympathize with the character Molly. The author makes the usual disclaimer about characters resembling actual people, but I will swear that Molly lives. Any Tuesday, she bails Gilliam Stroud out of jail, sprays him with Garden Mist air freshener, and drives him to court in his old black Lincoln Continental.

 This is a first novel by Austin Davis, a pseudonym for Steve Garrison, an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond. The cover is a joke too far, but I love the title, from a quote attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: “Lawyers spend a great deal of time shoveling smoke.”

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About browning26

mystery author, former English teacher, former newspaper reporter, former legal secretary

Posted on December 20, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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