Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

Blue BlazesThe Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig (9780857663351) Angry Robot (2013)

Mookie Pearl is a thug. When the Organization is in need of some muscle, Mookie has it in spades. When the Boss needs some kneecaps busted, Mookie’s happy to oblige. And when the goblins in the Underworld get restless, then it’s Mookie that the Organization sends in to settle them back down again. A great slab of a man with a bowling ball head and ham-hocks for hands, Mookie is a bruiser in both the criminal and supernatural underworlds and a force to be reckoned with. But when forces conspire to rock the natural order of things in the Organization–forces that may be led by his estranged daughter, Nora–Mookie is forced to go both underground and Underground to defeat them and stay alive.

Wendig has created a unique character and mythology for this unusual urban fantasy. Instead of the usual crop of werewolves, witches, and vampires, we have goblins (or “gobbos”) and underground civilizations and the walking dead (but not zombies–just, the dead). Mookie is a different kind of hero. He’s not a loveable lug–he’s more complicated than that. But he’s identifiable and likeable and, most importantly, someone who you want to go on this journey with.

And what a journey it is. As usual with Wendig, the plot is a roller-coaster ride of wild characters and pulp violence peppered with profane dialogue. There are roller derby street gangs, creepy snake-people assassins, assault four-wheelers, eldritch cults, and charcuterie. Satisfying in every way.

And yet…

And yet, I still came away unsatisfied. Not quite sated. I have no objective complaints about the plot, the writing, the overall grim tone of the novel, nothing. But still–something lacked. Something didn’t quite click with me. Not like Blackbirds or Double Dead did.

Don’t mistake me. I still want to see what’s in store for Mookie. This is a book I can still wholeheartedly recommend to others. But it didn’t “wow” me like his previous work has.

Still, if you’re looking for something different in urban fantasy, definitely give The Blue Blazes a read. Wendig’s unique voice and Mookie are well worth your time.

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“Gauntlet” reviewed in SFcrowsnest

On Spec Spring 2014My short story “Gauntlet” (appearing in On Spec #96 Spring 2014) got some praise over at SFcrowsnest:

“This enjoyable, well-crafted ripping yarn might have been stretched into a short novel with a few more sub-plots and could even make a decent B-movie of the straight-to-dvd sort.”

Check out the review of the full issue here.

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Review: Premonitions by Jamie Schultz

PremonitionsPremonitions by Jamie Schultz (9780451467447) : 2014 (Roc)

Karyn Ames runs a tight crew of thieves whose specialty is purloining items of the occult. There’s Anna, her right-hand–solid and dependable, her best friend since high school. Nail is the muscle, tough as his name and equipped with military discipline and training. Tommy is the occult expert–squirrely, but he knows his stuff. And Karyn herself has a peculiar talent. She can see the glimpses of the future in visions that superimpose themselves over the present. Thus, she can sometimes see dangerous situations and the double-cross before they come. But sometimes the visions grow too much to bear, with possible futures intruding on the present so much that the two become interchangeable. Then Karyn needs to take “blind”, a rare, highly expensive drug, to keep the visions at bay. Thus, the life of lucrative crime…

Now Karyn’s team is working for Enoch Sobell, a criminal overlord with a reputation for exclusivity: once you work for him once, you work for no one else. But with a two million dollar pay off, this clause may be worth it for Karyn’s crew. Soon, however, the job goes south and everyone–including the unflappable Mr. Sobell–find themselves in over their heads and desperate to find a way to neutralize a certain object before its too late.

Premonitions is both a heist novel and an urban fantasy with enough twists and turns to satisfy lovers of both genres. The plot is fast-paced and tight and the characters are well-drawn and interesting. In fact, Enoch Sobell’s backstory is probably worthy of a prequel or two. The author hits all the right stops, but this is by no means a “paint-by-the-numbers” book. It simply stands out as being a well-executed example of genre. A sequel is in the works and I, for one, am looking forward to it. Schultz is an author to watch.

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New Fiction: Blood Bond

So, Blood Bond is a piece (a novella? A novelette?) that I’ve been fiddling with for a long time. I don’t think I can sell it–it’s a bit on the old fashioned side and long. But, maybe you might enjoy it. I know I do.

Click here to read Blood Bond.

Or find it up top under Standalone Stories.

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Review: Cold In July by Joe R. Lansdale

Cold In JulyCold In July by Joe R. Lansdale (9781616961619): Tachyon Publications (c1989, 2014)

Lansdale’s gritty, pulpy, Texas-noir powerhouse opens in 1989 with Richard Dane being awoken by his wife in the middle of the night because she hears a prowler entering their home. Richard takes down a pistol from his closet and goes to investigate. In the process, he walks in on the prowler, who draws a gun and fires at him–luckily, the shot goes wide and Dane returns fire, killing the burglar in the process. As Dane deals with soul-deadening unease at taking a life, he also has to cope with the notoriety the event gives him in the sleepy East Texas town where he lives and works. But when the burglar’s father, Ben Russel, comes to town threatening Cape Fear-style revenge, Dane discovers that things are not at all what they seem and, in a strange turn of events, ends up working with Russel and an eccentric private investigator to get to the truth. Along the way, they find that they’re working against both law enforcement and the Dixie Mafia to try and do the right and honorable thing in a world that gets darker with each passing day.

Lansdale (Bubba Ho-Tep, Edge of Dark Water, The Thicket) is the gonzo prose-laureate of East Texas and this novel is a brilliant example of his writing at its tightest. He slowly turns up the tension in the first third of novel as Russel becomes an eerie force of menace, tormenting Dane and his family in the finest noir tradition. Then the story takes an abrupt turn into a straight-up crime novel as Dane, his wife Ann, Russel, and the competently egotistical PI Jim Bob Luke begin to put together pieces of the mystery that neither Dane nor Russel can let go of–even when what they find challenges their definitions of humanity. Finally, in its bloody and blazing climax, the novel transforms again into a pulpy action triumph. Even throughout these transitions, Lansdale manages to add another layer of storytelling to the mix, that of the psychological turmoil of the protagonist (Dane) and his questioning of what it means to be a man and “do what a man has to do”, his ability to be a good father, and the burden of his own sense of honor. All of this in a tidy, 250-page package.

The characters Lansdale creates are vivid and lively. Ann Dale is a lovely, strong woman who can easily go toe-to-toe with these über-masculine men she finds herself involved with. Dane is a sensitive, but rock-solid man, the salt of the earth. Russel is a man with a soul-sucking darkness in his heart, but is also a man full of regret and a basic humanity that keeps him from becoming a monster. And Jim Bob Luke has enough personality for ten characters, but Lansdale manages to keep him from hogging all of the available spotlight.

Finally, as he usually does in his fiction, he evokes the very spirit of its setting. You feel the heat, smell the stifling air, and taste the salt of the sweat in the stifling sauna that is an East Texas summer. He paints a vivid picture of the brimstone and fire of South Texas refineries and the desolate scrub of the country outside the asphalt jungle of the city. Texas itself is as much a character in the story as the players.

Needless to say, this is probably my favorite Joe Lansdale novel yet. And that’s saying something.

By the way, the novel has been made into an acclaimed movie by Jim Mickle and Nick Damici and starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepherd, and Don Johnson.


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