Not Quite the Classics (Viking Canada) was a book Colin Mochrie never intended to write, but I’m glad he did. Inspired by the improv game First Line, Last Line, Mochrie writes twelve short stories stemming from the first and last lines of classic novels and poems. Some are more successful than others, but all show the twisted sense of humour Mochrie is known for.
My vote for strongest story is “Twas Not Right Before Christmas”, and not just because it references Doctor Who. The story, based on Clement Moore’s classic Christmas poem, mixes together major Christmas stories, as the narrator finds characters ranging from the Ghost of Christmas Past to Clarence the angel in his living room on Christmas Eve due to a tear in the space-time continuum. In true Christmas Special fashion, the Tardis materializes and the Doctor endeavours to set things right (“‘I hate you,’ said a green man, whose shoes seemed to pinch/ ‘I’m not that kind of Who, you idiot Grinch'”), but in typical Doctor Who tradition, the Doctor “can’t really explain […] it’s too convoluted” how he’s going to save Christmas. It feels like a great fanfiction.
Other stories I liked were “Franken’s Time”, based on Frankenstein, in which a farmer’s pet chicken attempts to reanimate its departed mate; “Fahren Heights Bin 451”, in which a noir-style private detective Burn McDeere is hired to find a set of lost car keys (“Frankly, McDeere, I don’t give a damn”); “A Tale of Two Critters”, the autobiography of (the unnamed) Wile E. Coyote and his nemesis the Roadrunner; “Re: Becker” (inspired by Du Maurier’s Rebecca) in which the unimaginative Morely agrees to an unusual task after his friend’s death; and “Moby: Toupee or not Toupee”, in which a struggling actor find a magical wig that turns his career around.
Mochrie clearly tries to capitalize on trendy genres or characters, as evidenced by “A Study in Ha-Ha”, in which Sherlock Holmes attempts a career in stand-up comedy; “The Grateful Gatsby”, which is a mixture of Downton Abbey and Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories; and “The Cat and My Dad”, which is set during the zombie apocalypse.
Some stories fell flat for me. “Casey at the Bar” awkwardly rhymes its way through a disgraced Leafs goalie’s evening out as he attempts to score a date; “Waterhouse Five” is an unamusing story of an unlucky man’s prostate exam that clearly aims for cheap laughs; “The Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Fourth” attempts a mediocre fantasy tale about a Bilbo-Baggins-type reluctant protagonist who must restore the throne to the rightful ruler.
Unsurprisingly, Not Quite the Classics is not the High Literature its stories are based on, but that’s the point. Mochrie’s stories are not especially complex or subtle, but his writing is generally capable and reflects his brand of humour. Generally the collection was less amusing than I was hoping; I smiled and cringed in about equal proportion (but then, butt jokes are not my thing). He does a passable imitation of genre styles: “Fahren Heights Bin 451” is particularly competent example of noir, although “The Grateful Gatsby” and “A Study in Ha-Ha” have too many “my dear old chap”-type flourishes for my taste. Despite some forgettable stories, Mochrie’s talent for humour is evident. As Cleolinda says, if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like.