Denver Post: “Enjoyable Fare”

“Asphalt Warrior” is enjoyable fare
By Mike McClanahan Special to The Denver Post The Denver Post

by Gary Reilly (Running Meter Press)

Gary Reilly never cared that much about getting his work published. Fortunately for us, his friends did. Otherwise, we might never have met Murph (full name Brendan Murphy), a semi-misanthropic and delightfully peevish goldbrick of a Denver cab driver, and the hero of “The Asphalt Warrior.”

Murph’s day starts with picking up his cab and heading to a nearby 7-Eleven to fill the cab with gas and himself with caffeine. He spends the next several hours hanging out at cab stands downtown or taking the occasional dispatch call if he’s really desperate for money. It’s at the stand at the downtown Hilton that Murph is led into violating his cardinal rule of cab driving: Never get involved in the personal lives of your passengers.

Tony Bombalini is a barber who has made a nice living for himself but is not without problems. They range from suspicions that his wife is cheating on him to a gambling habit that threatens his cozy East Denver existence. Try as he might ? and he tries mightily ? Murph can’t avoid entanglement in Tony’s convoluted life.

Throughout the book, Murph struggles to suppress his instinct to be a good person, a labor that brings forth nonstop musings about life and his own demons that elicit memories of Caulfield, Portnoy and Yossarian while evoking satisfying grins, chuckles and occasional outright laughter from the reader. He looks at the city with a cabbie’s eye, a vantage point you’ll never see in a Chamber of Commerce brochure.

Reilly is a master wordsmith who packs “The Asphalt Warrior” with quotable musings on subjects ranging from relationships (“the relationship between a cabbie and a fare is traditionally brief and meaningless, like a lot of marriages”) to writing (“Cab drivers and writers share one thing in common: a lot of people think they should be willing to work for free”) to the social significance of his favorite TV show, “Gilligan’s Island.”

Murph is Reilly’s alter ego, an oracle admonishing him to keep writing. And write he did, for more than 30 years without any significant effort to get published. When he died in 2011, he left behind a three-sentence will that gave author Mark Stevens and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist (and former Denver Post staffer) Mike Keefe the right to publish his works, including all 11 comic novels centered on the life of Brendan Murphy.

“The Asphalt Warrior” debuted June 5 and quickly rose to No. 3 on the Denver-area best-seller list. Reilly’s second book, “Ticket to Hollywood,” will be published in December.