While I think the actual life of Dennis McMillan is interesting enough, especially if you’ve got your noir or absurd on, I realised awhile back that a shadow life of Dennis in fiction was developing — don’t know for certain if it was the first, but the booklet Trips by Charles Fischer keyed me in.
Pitch perfect Dennis in a set of stories, maybe more real than real life.
By the time Dennis assembled his twentieth anniversary anthology Measures of Poison in 2002, obviously his writing crew had figured it out. Michael Connelly begins his story in the book with “McMillan has the deal.” Others, but not all, made the nod. (I thought my major reference was slick and subtle, obliquely invoking Dennis while bouncing off a line in the Op story “The Whosis Kid” — plus major plot moments were in tribute to his life. Why write a story for that book otherwise?)
And I just found another installment in this life in Gary Phillips’ new collection Treacherous, where “McMillan flopped onto his stomach in his vintage Hawaiian shirt atop the ratty shag carpet.”
The story is “Disco Zombies” — I missed it when it originally appeared in 2005 in the theme anthology The Cocaine Chronicles. Like I was saying in my review column a few years ago, theme anthologies are taking over from magazines as the main source for new short fiction — true for almost everything Gary offers here.
A solid collection, lots of variety. “Disco Zombies” isn’t my favorite story in the book, but if you’re collecting This Life of Dennis, you’ve got to read it — Dennis and a Gary surrogate see their coke deal gone wrong and end up battling to the death against zombies. It could happen, right? Old Dennis definitely deserves this chance to battle some zombies.
Looking up potential links to the book, I was surprised to see each and every image showing a generic “suspense” cover, a shadowy woman in a lit doorway deal, while on the proof copy I have Gary himself makes the cover.
He should be on the covers of all his books.
And if you’re looking for other lives of Dennis to explore, his career as a publisher is good, too, and folds back into this book. For a complete Dennis collection you’ll want to get the dustjacket he did for his limited deluxe edition of Soul Circus by George Pelecanos, featuring Gary as a gangsta — but his edition never happened. Instead, 500 copies of the Gary dustjacket, signed by everybody involved, the only proof that edition was ever in the pipeline.
Now I’m wondering if the proof copies of this collection are going to be equally scarce.
Or, the Life of a Collector.