I try very hard in this column not to waste my time on books I know are going to be bad. I’ve mostly avoided reviewing franchises I don’t like. I don’t discuss junior novelizations because they’re elongated wikipedia synopses. I definitely don’t have any desire to review the Full House books (though fine I owned a few.)
But sometimes there’s an idea that could work even if it seems silly. That’s where we are here. We’re looking at a novel linked to the 2006 Pink Panther reboot, The Pink Panther Gets Lucky by mystery writers Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini. It’s an unlikely idea, spinning Inspector Clouseau off into a series of books but not that unlikely. Clouseau might be a comic figure but that’s not that abnormal in mysteries. Why couldn’t he be an exaggerated Poirot? This idea seriously had tons of promise.
The book follows Clouseau, fresh off his triumph in finding the fabled diamond, as he inadvertently fails to stop the heist of a lost Da Vinci. When an American starlet vanishes during a magic act, Chief Inspector Dreyfus finds an excuse to get Clouseau to Vegas so he can find the painting. Clouseau is out of water but of course he somehow solves both cases.
:deep breath: Before I go any further, I really think a Clouseau novel series could in theory work amazingly well but it needs to have a conflict. Clouseau is a cartoon. He needs to be set in a more or less realistic world. Set apart, Clouseau is so much funnier and it makes him pop so much more.
Holy hell is this not that.
The Pink Panther Gets Lucky is one of the biggest “what the hell did I just read” books ever. It is a book where every single decision the writers made baffles me. It doesn’t work on any level except it’s pretty compulsively readable. It’s staggeringly weird through and through. I’m probably going to spike sales of this thing because if I do my job, you’re going to need to experience it yourself.
As I said, Clouseau needs reality. So of course everything in this book is a heightened cartoon. Nobody in this book acts like an adult. There’s zero sense the writers are aware of what the actual pop culture they’re riffing on is like. It’s as if you were watching Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping but it was made by people with less parody sense than not only the laser like Lonely Island but Seltzer/Friedberg.
And that’s a huge issue because this book might as well be titled “A Guide to What Was Popular in September 2005.” There’s a long series of Hilton sister jokes. There’s a lot of focus on how funny rappers’ names are, something white writers should really never do, with a running gag that a rapper named URN is called urine. There’s also a joke that he’s a complete fraud, coming from wealth, an idea I can’t stress enough should not come from white writers. The main suspect is a Criss Angel type. There’s an obvious Dog the Bounty Hunter stand in. Giant Da Vinci Code running joke. There’s a long joke about the no fly list. Mel Gibson and The Passion of The Christ get their last reference in mainstream culture that isn’t dark. Oh and at one point Clouseau froths over Britney Spears as a goddess in a book published at the exact moment her very tragic mental health issues were coming out. And I could go on. (Not a 2005 reference but there’s a rodeo star named Gina Autrey. Seriously.)
The book could endure if it had any wit about any of these things. But this is not a funny book. Next week I’m covering a side splittingly funny book that achieves such because the wordplay is art. No, this book reflects all too well Cerasini’s time as author of the Ace Ventura novelizations. All the humor is siren level loud with with not one trace of subtlety. There is so much physical comedy and not in the deft Sellers fashion. This really does read like a 300 page junior novel with 3rd grade humor.
Or it would if the book wasn’t really, really offensive. Dreyfus poses as a generic brown person in brownface which gets him mistaken for a terrorist. There’s a performance artist who strips nude to help disguise she’s stealing the painting, a fact Clouseau discovers when he finds her other job as a dominatrix at a brothel. There’s one attempted sex scene with Clouseau. Oh, at one point Clouseau poses in drag and there’s references to his penis. So there, this column has put THAT image in your head.
OK, so it’s dated, unfunny, and offensive. Can I find something else objectionable? Damn right! It’s a very, very long work of product placement for the MGM Grand. You get so much hype for the hotel and for Vegas as a whole really. Hated that. Oh and there’s another book in the serious that I kid you not, still gets Clouseau back to Las Vegas. That’s unread by me but you know I’ll get back to it since I bought it with this one.
But now we come to somehow the book’s biggest failure. This is a terrible mystery novel. They had all the space of a book to create an actual mystery novel instead of elongated setpieces and created a very boring mystery largely solved by coincidence. And in doing so they basically give away a truth.
See, this book was never going to work because Jacques Clouseau isn’t actually a good detective. He can’t be. He’s got to be funny because the whole joke is he’s an idiot who has no idea what he’s doing. He’s never going to be a deft wit like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot because that’s exactly who he isn’t. So he can’t actually be in a good mystery. He’s got to endlessly stumble into the answer. And that’s fine for an idiot comedy but not a good book.
Yet the idea still isn’t without potential. A series of books dealing with this character could work. It could be fun getting parodies of the genre. But again, it needs to have a baseline reality. Parody without that is just useless. It’s the difference between Walk Hard and Disaster Movie.
This is the kind of disaster of a book I truly didn’t think I’d ever cover on this column. It’s bad idea that could not ever work but sure as hell does not work in this form. A true trainwreck.