Created by Dashiell Loveless
Pseudonym of Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender
“One false step and it’s curtains for the floozy!”
— this ain’t no foolin’ around (By the Balls)
He’s a P.I. with “a passion for small cigars and Old Grand-Dad, and a weakness for women in trouble”, the hot shot op for the Always Reddy Detective Agency located on the second floor of the William Kemmler Building in the business district of Testacy City, a “crime-filled desert city,” about a hundred miles north of Vegas, where there are always some strange shenanigans going on, full of mysterious women, gangsters, murder and…um…bowling. He’s BENJAMIN DRAKE, and he’s the hero of By the Balls (1998), one of the funniest parodies/tributes I’ve seen in years.
Hell, I’d pretty much decided that before I had even read it, when I first spotted the book in Montreal’s Nebula bookstore. It was a pitch-perfect knock-off of old pulp novels. This Loveless guy, I figured, must know his stuff. Turns out my faith was not misplaced.
Ben’s your typical chain-smoking, Old Grand Dad-slurping, Wittgenstein-reading, kick-’em-where-it-hurts kinda gumshoe, but where he really shines is when’s he’s spitting out the tough talk and cracking wise. Turns out Ben — and everybody else in Testacy City — graduated with flying colours from the Chandler Academy of Wise-Crackery & Colourful Similes. If the patter was any gaudier, you’d need sunglasses to read it.
It’s as much a tribute as a send-up to the genre, though: a hard-talking shamus who drinks a little too much, stray cats a little too much and gets beat up a little much. In fact, everything’s just a little too much, but — talk about a deft balancing act — never so over the top that you aren’t caught up in the story.
It was a joke, but one the reader was in on. Even the book’s design played along. By the Balls mimicked all those great old Dell Mapbacks from the forties, right down to the size, the map on the back and those cryptic and oh-so-helpful first pages that detail “The Persons This Mystery Is About…” and “What This Mystery Is About…” It also features illustrations throughout by Paul Pope. It’s a blast of fresh air in a genre that’s starting to take itself way too seriously. And I guess enough folks found Bo Diddley’swarning, that “you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover…” to be wrong, to make way for a sequel of sorts, 1999’s Five Shots and a Funeral. It’s a “collection” of five short story “crime capers,” and also comes highly-recommended.
There was even a serialized comic story, “A Punch in the Gut and a Bag Full of Oranges” which was serialized and featured in three subsequent issues of the free Dark Horse newsletter, “Dark Horse Extra,” drawn by Paul Lee.
And fans of the Always Reddy Detective City will be pleased to know that a short story, featuring Ben’s fellow op and inter-office rival, Henry Goiler, appeared in the February/March 2001 issue of Blue Murder.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Dashiell Loveless was actually the joint pen name of sharp-dressed LA madmen Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender. Pascoe (the one with crazy hair) is a writer, designer, and a multiple-award-winning creative director and packing designer, whose primary passion remains writing. He’s written comics and books featuring Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kim Possible, and Hellboy, and most recently his crime fiction has appeared in Los Angeles Noir and Florida Heat Wave. Tom Fassbender (the tall one) is a writer, editor, and content strategist who has written, edited, and published both novels and comics. By day he manages the creative team at a Southern California financial institution, and fills the rest of his time by being a father and beekeeper, running long distances and donning a mask and tights to fight crime in and around Los Angeles. Some of this may not be true.
Pascoe and Fassbender were also the brains behind the much-loved Uglytown, a small, uppity but selective press that put out great (and great looking) crime books for several years. I’m pretty sure that’s true.
- “There’s nothing like a mourning widow … and Suzi Biggs was nothing like a mourning widow. More like a morning window, and I could see right through her.”
— from By the Balls
- “Consider this an advance on a beating to come.”
— from By the Balls
- “He let out a wide-mouthed yawn, his tongue wiggling like a worm on a rainy day.”
— from “Raspberry Jack”
- By the Balls (1998) | Buy this book
- Five Shots and a Funeral: The Short Fiction of Dashiell Loveless (1999) | Buy this book
- By the Balls: The Complete Collection (2013) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
A totally redesigned fifteenth anniversary edition, including the two original books, By the Balls and Five Shots and a Funeral, along with two brand-new short stories, a new introduction, and over a dozen short essays by industry big shots.
- “The Silent Ventriloquist” (1999, Five Shots and a Funeral; December 1999, Blue Murder)
- “Death Plays a Foul Game” (1999, Five Shots and a Funeral)
- “A Cold-Blooded Kidnapping” (1999, Five Shots and a Funeral)
- “Midnight Train to Nowhere” (1999, Five Shots and a Funeral)
- “Raspberry Jack” (1999, Five Shots and a Funeral)
- “Across the Line” (2013, By the Balls: The Complete Collection)
- “Kind Words” (2013, By the Balls: The Complete Collection)
- DARK HORSE EXTRA
(2001, Dark Horse Comics)
Written by Tom Fassbender and Jim Pascoe
Art by Paul Lee.
- “A Punch in the Gut and a Bag Full of Oranges, Part 1” (February 7, 2001,
- “A Punch in the Gut and a Bag Full of Oranges, Part 2” (March 7, 2001, Dark Horse Extra)
- “A Punch in the Gut and a Bag Full of Oranges, Part 3” (April 4, 2001, Dark Horse Extra)
I think all hard-boiled fans owe themselves a visit to Uglytown.