A pop art version of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, with a touch of Tarantino violence sums up Small Change: Andrez Bergen’s buzzing novel, or to give it its full title, A casebook of Scherer and Miller, Investigators of the Paranormal and Supermundane. Degenerate detective Roy Scherer and his cunning sidekick, Suzie Miller, take on a whole barrage of bizarre cases from a vengeful Japanese spirit to a collection of dismembered talking heads.
The book takes its title from a 1976 Tom Waits album and it is indicative of the short, sharp nature of each tale that makes up the collection. When I first started reading, I felt the chapters were a little bit too concise, however by the end the puzzle becomes clear. Small Change is a cleverly woven narrative, edited to perfection. It reminded me of the bell jar I have in my study that I collect coins in, when emptied you realise there’s a significant amount more than expected.
The haphazard chapters are divided into sections, such as ‘a bit over two years ago’, ‘way back when’ and ‘more recently’, as a result of which, this three-act formula creates a really thorough picture of the pair’s back story. It tells of how Scherer took over from the agency’s previous owner – Suzie Miller’s father – a man who always had a supply of hard liquor to hand,
…a bourbon bottle that changed labels and content amounts but never any dust.
There is even a ‘ghouls’ glossary’ at the back to assist with terminology and references some readers – particularly digital natives – may not understand, like VHS.
Bergen’s varied resume includes writing – novels, nonfiction and comic book series – translating and adapting scripts, as well as music and more but luckily ten million hardbacks managed to pin the ‘accidentally busy’ Aussie expat down for a brief chat.
10mh: What are you currently reading?
I’m in the middle of three novels at the moment – George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman in the Great Game, Ross Macdonald’s The Zebra-Striped Hearse, and Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine. All those Macs make me sound like a Scotophile, but I’m also re-reading the Velvet comic book series by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting.
10mh: I found the pairing of Scherer and Miller to be a little like a Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson for the contemporary world. Do you have a favourite Holmes story, and if so which one and why?
Oh, wow – there’s a sweet comparison! I’m a big fan of Holmes and Watson from way back, in their various cinematic incarnations as much as Conan Doyle’s books. I’d like to opt for The Hound of the Baskervilles, but always had a soft spot also for A Scandal in Bohemia – if only because in Irene Adler, Holmes met a woman to match his wits.
10mh: I could see Small Change on the big screen. If you could cast anyone in the roles of the main protagonists, who would they be?
Cheers! This question’s intriguing, given my love of film, and I’d like to opt for actors from differing generations. Roy Scherer would need to be either Humphrey Bogart or Elliot Gould (my two favourite Philip Marlowes), for Suzie Miller I’d opt with Dorothy Malone – the bespectacled bookstore clerk in the 1946 version of The Big Sleep – or Amanda Seyfried. For her father Art it’d have to be Darren McGavin.
10mh: What are you working on at the moment?
I have a few projects going right now. I just finished a novel, Black Sails, Disco Inferno, that reimagines the medieval romance of Tristan and Iseult as a 1970s crime drama, I’m novelising my noir/pulp comic book Bullet Gal, and I do a regular superhero pastiche comic with artist Frantz Kantor – it’s called Magpie and appears in Australian zine Oi Oi Oi!
10mh: Name 5 of your favourite writers.
Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ed Brubaker, Philip K. Dick, and Dr. Seuss.
10mh: Where do you write?
At home, mostly – but also between lessons while teaching, on the train, in the street – and straddling gutters with my notebook.
10mh: If you could be a ghoul for a day, what would you be and why?
Um… I’d say a vampire, but daytime’s not so great for those types, and lately Twilight interferes with my better judgment. A mummy’s not a bad lark. You get to sleep a lot and there’s not so much coherent dialogue.