Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Jikan Chronicles Book Two

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Jikan Chronicles Book Two (Paragon, 2012).

It did not take me long to become utterly confused by the second collection of The Jikan Chronicles. I saw from the table of contents that this is an 88-page book with stories and artwork by several different British small press creators, but assumed that it was some kind of anthology of unrelated stories, as the second one didn't seem, at first, to have anything to do with the opening tale. Eventually, I figured out that Jikan is a time-traveling samurai, killing demons of various sorts in several different periods of history, and that his adventures are chronicled by several different creators.

Davey Candlish, who provides artwork for several of the stories and appears to be the overall editor of the project, has hinted that there's an overarching plot for this series, and a great deal of background and character work that's yet to be seen. His own art is still a little hesitant - very solid inking, but shaky on the anatomy details - but as the stories passed by, I was left wondering what was the point of the series, and this collection. Each story had its own merits - creators, whose names should be familiar to Bookshelf readers over the last few months, include Matthew McLaughlin, Dirk Van Dom and "El Chivo" - and I didn't dislike any of them, but was baffled as to where this was going. A lack of a "story so far" left me similarly stumped as to whether I'd missed anything important.

It is definitely worth sticking with it, as about halfway through the volume, a much longer tale begins and it, happily, starts to tie all these disparate adventures together and explain that there is a much bigger puzzle at work than "samurai kills demons and leaves town," and, abruptly, what had been amusing and unrelated diversions becomes a truly engrossing and fabulous tale of intricate time travel and devil-dealing.

Anyway, Van Dom and "Chivo" probably start things off with too great a bang for anybody to follow, which might also have contributed to my dissatisfaction. "Griffin's Bounty" sees Jikan rescuing travelers in a remote area from huge monsters that have abducted a girl who's a lot less helpless than she let on. A reference to a translator in Jikan's ear threw me, but I figured that was due to the missing details from the first book. It's not the most wholly original adventure, but it's done very well and "Chivo" really nails the sense of place and pacing of the story. The art that I enjoyed most throughout was by Dustin Parr, who gives the story "Lord of Sores" a grisly and nauseating once-over, but whose figure and character work sell the piece perfectly.

The book is available through the Paragon blog site and Lulu by clicking the image above. It's very reasonably priced at £5 or $8 US for 88 pages, and it would be a entertaining diversion even without the 25-page "Shimasu," which closes the book and kicks the story into something really engaging. As with all small press work, it's a little rough around the edges and flawed, but never troublingly so, and there's a lot more right than wrong. Recommended.

A PDF of this comic was provided for the purpose of review. If you'd like to see your comics or detective fiction featured here, send me an email.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Zaucer of Zilk

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Zaucer of Zilk (Rebellion, 2012).

It's things like The Zaucer of Zilk that leave me so incredibly disappointed with the people who run what pass for news sites in the comic world. DC and Marvel crap out the latest iteration of their trademarks to constantly diminishing returns and this gets coverage upon coverage upon coverage, and somebody genuinely exciting and thrilling and bold like Brendan McCarthy - excuse me, BRENDAN McCARTHY - returns to draw a new serial and it gets no attention?! What the hell is wrong with you, Robot 6? The Beat? Why are you talking SO MUCH about a lousy drawing of Catwoman's butt when there are sixty new pages of Brendan McCarthy loose in the world?!

Of course, I'm very, very biased. Those occasional, unbelievable episodes of Judge Dredd that McCarthy drew in the late 80s - "Riders on the Storm," "Atlantis," "The Blood Donor" - just blew my teenage mind. I read Sooner or Later, that bizarre collaboration with Peter Milligan and Tom Frame, in completely random order, since I was finding back issues so haphazardly, and loved every demented panel. Full of imagery that might have been nonsensical had it not made so very much sense, it was the stuff that every sixteen year-old on the social fringes definitely needed to be reading.

So whenever McCarthy resurfaces, it's cause for celebration. And something as comparatively huge as The Zaucer of Zilk - did I tell you it's sixty pages?! - should be screamed from the rooftops. It's not quite hallucinogenic, since the writing, about which more in a tick, grounds it quite a lot, but the wild imagery, clothes, designs and colors shout otherwise.

The story looks like it's starting to tell us about how a humdrum nobody in a grey provincial town is actually an exile from a weird world of color and wonder, but it turns out that the provincial town - in fact, our entire existence, yours and mine - is nothing more than a trap to ensnare the selfish young hero of the piece and claim his powerful wand. Once we get going in the serial's second episode, it's a stunning take on Oz or Wonderland or what have you, with the neat exclusion of any kind of young "real world" hero or heroine to deal with the weird rules and ramifications of the fairyland where the story is set. Rather, McCarthy, and scripter Al Ewing, use the reader - yes, you, the person reading the story - as the audience identification figure, somehow.

Ewing's master stroke in putting this together is using a fantastic, dense narration quite unlike most of what you see in the medium. There's a lot to read among McCarthy's stunning visuals, and it's told by an omniscient but very unreliable narrator, the Tailor of Tales, who makes himself known four episodes into the madness, at which point the Zaucer has to capture a new pair of pants in order to travel between realities... oh, it's very heady stuff. Anyway, there are puns and inside jokes and weird literary allusions in every panel, and certain things are never explained and certain things don't need to be, and some things make the sort of perfect sense that only fairy tales make. Why is the villainous Errol Raine so nasty? Because this is a fairy tale, and he's the bad guy, now watch out, lest all the tooth-helmeted people in their cloud chairs form a giant mouth to bite you in two.

Recommended? Strangely, when read weekly, this was so light and frothy as to become almost entirely disposable and forgettable fluff. As one, it's an indispensable and essential example of perfect phantasmagoria and a very novel use of the medium to tell something that could only work in comics, and work better than most anything else. It is, sadly, not yet available in a simple digital package of its own (something that Tharg should definitely start fixing), but across ten issues of 2000 AD, progs 1775-1784. Reading it'll run you thirty bucks, but you also get some completely amazing episodes of Dredd, Nikolai Dante and other things out of the deal, so take the plunge and buy all ten issues. Don't just buy one and see what you think. Get all ten. Trust me.

That'll be the last 2000 AD-related feature here for a couple of months while I resume work on the fabulous and famous Thrillpowered Thursday blog, but I have some more features planned for August and September. Bookmark Thrillpowered Thursday and tell your friends!

YES! I made it through an entire article on McCarthy without saying "psychedelic!"

Friday, June 22, 2012

El Bigote: A Tequila-Drenched Reckoning

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of El Bigote: A Tequila-Drenched Reckoning (Tekilla Comix, 2012).

There's always a half-second pause of trepidation when an online acquaintance offers to let me read his comics. Sure, I do reviews, and I'm happy to provide a little publicity, whether I actually like something or not, but... what if it's awful?! What if I don't like it at all...?

Happily, my phobia has never been less founded than when I got to page four of the over-the-top and wonderful El Bigote, written by Matthew McLaughlin and drawn by the mysterious "El Chivo." I should have known better; anybody whom I know via the 2000 AD message boards is certain to share my appreciation for high-concept, wild stories that mix goofy melodrama with comic violence. Anybody possessing the talent and the drive to actually create their own might have a pretty good chance at infusing their work with the crackling energy - oh, let's just call it thrillpower - that inspires us.

El Bigote isn't a comic for people who enjoy lots of patient and slow-burning world-building and explanation; it throws readers in and expects them to hang on for dear life as events start weird and get weirder. It's set in a strange border town - border as in the border between life and the afterlife - which looks a lot like an Old West ghost town, populated by goblins and ghouls and zombies. It's always el dia de los muertos in Undead Mexico, and lots of mean hombres have ugly scores to settle.

The introductory story for El Bigote - a second adventure, dealing with "muertoads," is promised - is a fast-paced and very amusing fight scene, setting up the rules of this oddball world through dialogue within the skirmish and throwing curve balls, sight gags, and occasional puns on almost every page. McLaughlin and Chivo have a plan to keep things moving, frantic and engaging, while hoping that the experience does not has to pause for readers to figure out what's happening.

Having said that, a slower start could have worked to the story's advantage. There was one stumble where I missed that one of the villains is a fellow with his brain soaking in a tank of tequila, and the setup of an important gag was lost upon me while I was absorbing so many other visual facts at once. Chivo, tasked with visually introducing us to this world, opts to attempt to draw everything immediately, rather than pace and slowly build the clues needed. His inking is in a style a little too heavy for my liking, but I'm impressed by just how much he's inking; most of his peers in the small-press field would happily shortcut somehow to get out of having to draw as much detail and background as he does.

While it is, therefore, rough around the edges, it is still a very entertaining start. It stars a great and silly lead character whose appearance is quite unlike anybody else in the medium. This is certainly recommended over my quibbles, and I look forward to going south of the border again for more paranormal gunslinging adventures with El Bigote soon.

A PDF of this comic was provided for the purpose of review. If you'd like to see your comics or detective fiction featured here, send me an email.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Slaine: Lord of Misrule

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Slaine: Lord of Misrule (volume 6) (Rebellion, 2011).

Admittedly, this chunk of Pat Mills' venerable Slaine has aged much better than I remembered, but this is still not a book that I can really recommend very loudly. We're at the point in the saga that somebody once described as "Doctor Who with an axe," in which the Celtic barbarian has been traveling upward in time to major historical events. This seems to have been done to allow Mills the chance to totally geek out on researching the incidents that inspired myths and legends from Britain's history. This time out, Slaine's taken the mantle of Robin Goodfellow, with his ladylove Niamh reincarnated as Maid Marian, a nun. Over the course of the two linked stories "The Name of the Sword" and "Lord of Misrule," Slaine needs to get her out of the convent, remind her of "the laughter in the woods," get back to nature and join with the locals in killing the hell out of a lot of boring and straightlaced Christians.

I have a bias against this period in the first place, because Mills was, in the 1990s, going through a pretty repetitive anti-Christian funk, with everything feeling pretty one-note. There are no memorable villains, or, really, any other characters of note. It's Slaine by-the-numbers. He kills a lot, and doesn't think it too many, and it never really matters during this phase who his enemies are.

It is certainly drawn extremely well, but in Rebellion's new collection of these stories, there has been a stunning revision to the original artwork. "Lord of Misrule" was drawn in traditional pen-and-ink by Clint Langley, then a reasonably new name to the comic. He'd previously painted some Judge Dredd episodes and worked with Mills on the deeply odd serial Dinosty, and he explains in an introduction that he found the assignment much more difficult than anticipated, and was never happy with the colorist's finish to his inks. (As an aside, it was a blown deadline for "Lord of Misrule" that led to then-editor David Bishop, in his superhuman guise of Tharg the Mighty, quickly commissioning a short extension to the new series Sinister Dexter; the added exposure led to the series' surprising popularity and probably set the seeds for its 300+ episode run.)

Given the chance to return to his artwork, Langley has recolored quite a few images. I'm of two minds about this, actually. I can appreciate the opportunity to make corrections to comics as they originally appeared when it is something that really needs a modification - the revised lettering of several "handwritten" captions in a Defoe story when it made it to book form was a great idea, as the originals were practically illegible - but here, I just don't like the results at all. Langley's computer-composite fumetti work, as employed on more recent Slaine adventures and on other Mills comics such as The ABC Warriors and American Reaper is, at least, always interesting, and, particularly on ABC, really thrilling. But I found the new coloring of "Misrule" completely intrusive and it never flatters the original work at all. At its worst, the revised pages just look like somebody slapped some lens flares on the page, and at best, it still fails to complement the original.

It's a good effort, and I appreciate all of the design team's hard work, and I also appreciate Langley making the attempt to rework his art to his own satisfaction, even if it didn't work for me. Sadly, the original material is, while better than I recalled and not really deserving of complete dismissal, still pretty mediocre. Everybody involved has done much better work. Recommended for completists only.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Palookaville # 20

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Palookaville # 20 (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010).

Longtime readers know that I really enjoy the deceptively simple comics by Seth, which flow with tranquil grace and are often set in a small Ontario city called Dominion. Palookaville used to be his regular periodical, but in 2010 it became an annual hardback with its twentieth installment. He then decided against the annual deadline; the 21st issue is due later this summer.

An issue of Palookaville usually contains some fiction along with some autobiographical comics and sketchbook material. In this book, the fiction is another chunk of thirty-odd pages of "Clyde Fans," a sad exploration of the slow deterioration of a Dominion business. This part of the story is set in 1975, and I like the way that Seth captures the clothes and the hair of the period without being fancy or flashy about it. The last fourteen pages make up a story about Seth's trip to Calgary for a comic festival and him being a completely miserable git about it.

This troubles me, but it also fascinates me. I've often thought that some people who review "alt-comix" give far too much leeway to mediocre work just because it preaches the truth, when the uncomfortable reality is that the overwhelming majority of us lead lives which, transferred to the page, make for comics that I just can't stand to read, and don't know who does. It takes a heck of a lot of talent and a really firm grasp of the medium, both of which Seth has in spades, to turn our humdrum existence into something visually interesting enough that I would like to read about it.

But at the same time, Seth's worldview - if it can be trusted - is so misanthropic and down on himself that even his unbelievable skill can't turn fourteen pages of moaning into something that I'd like to return to. He certainly speaks an uncomfortable truth: he says that he's a big fan of the cartoonist Ben Katchor (as, indeed, every one of us should be), but that he finds himself with nothing really to say to him, and no connection at all. When you get past "I love your stuff," what's next? It's a fair question, and a shame that Seth can't bridge that gap.

Perhaps what it comes down to is that, raising a daughter with some mental health issues of her own, I find myself pulling back from reading depictions of depression. Once in a while, my smile is masking some nonsense I wish wasn't happening, but my own outlook and my perspective is really one of such real positivity that the malaise that infects Seth is downright saddening to read. I'd love to know where Seth buys his suits, and I'd love the funds to dress as well as him (Google AdSense to yer left, readers), and I'm happy as hell to buy his comics and visit Dominion, but man alive, I can't get behind visiting his real world. Cheer up, man!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nikolai Dante: Hero of the Revolution

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Nikolai Dante: Hero of the Revolution (volume 10) (Rebellion, 2011).

I'm sitting down to write this little feature about seven days before Robbie Morrison's final Nikolai Dante story, believed to be an eight-parter, begins in 2000 AD. It has been a blast. There has not been any other comic adventure, at all, to provide such an incredibly fun and long roller coaster of a ride in the last fifteen years.

With the tenth and penultimate collection of the series here, I can't think of a better example of a roller coaster. This book starts with the story of Dante leading his army of thieves and whores against Tsar Vladimir, and this epic, painted by John Burns, takes up about half the book. There are fatalities and losses along the way. Lauren's death is one of the few in the series that's really telegraphed ahead of time, as I don't believe that there was room for both her and Jena in the same narrative. Nevertheless, it's still a kick in the head when it happens.

When these episodes were originally published across 2010, everybody reading them believed that they were the last great war story, and that all that would be left, after the surrender of Vladimir, were loose ends and final farewells. "Heroes Be Damned," the next story, begins with the wedding of Dante's brother Viktor and the promise of a happily-ever-after ending for Dante and Jena. There's a school of thought that the series could have ended right there, sort of like Phoebe from Friends reporting how her mother would turn off Old Yeller before he tries to bite the younger brother. Because that episode is beautiful and upbeat, but just a few pages later, one of those weird loose ends turns out to be a genuinely stunning game-changer. Nikolai Dante had never shied away from killing off its supporting cast - some of us still raise a glass to Andreas - but what happens to Dante and his allies at the trial of Vladimir is just thunderous. You remember how, last year in Doctor Who, Alex Kingston was talking about how the Doctor would rise higher than ever before and then fall so far, and then we scratched our heads as he neither rose particularly high nor fell all that far either? That's not what happens in "Heroes Be Damned."

This is capped by the hallucinogenic masterpiece "A Farewell to Arms," drawn by Simon Fraser, in which a valued supporting character gives Dante a last goodbye, and it is right up there with all the very best "remember when" moments of great deaths in comics. It probably has very nearly the same impact as Tonantzín Villaseñor's end in Human Diastrophism, or at least I think that it might. An acquaintance of mine, who's really a lovely person, is still due something of a brutal ass-kicking for spoiling it for me, should I ever make it to England again, so I'll never know.

The sense of desperation and resolve at the end of this book is just amazing. It's like Morrison and his artists asked, "You know all the hell that Dante went through in this series to beat Vladimir? Well, now he has to go through all that hell again, but worse, and with far fewer resources." The last chunk of the book, featuring 2010's final episodes, puts the pieces in place for the grand finale. 2011 saw only a single short, six-week run of the series - that's how The Love Bunglers was able to walk away with everybody's vote for best comic of last year, 'cause there wasn't enough Dante - but the first four months of 2012 were just a wild and amazing seat-of-your-pants / depths-of-despair triumph.

Only six or eight more weeks of this to go. I am going to miss this series when it ends like you just don't know. Hot damn alive, is this ever recommended; what in creation are you waiting for?

I'll write again about the final run of Dante episodes later in the summer, after the next batch of Thrillpowered Thursday blogs wraps up. That'll give everybody time to buy some vodka and join me for a celebratory toast, okay?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Talking to Girls About Duran Duran (Plume, 2011).

I came into this book with elevated expectations and was mostly let down, but expectations are an unpleasant thing, and the fault of the reader. It isn't right to blame the author for them, but at the same time it is hard to fairly judge a book for what it actually brings when it steadfastly refused to provide what you wanted.

Rob Sheffield's previous book, Love is a Mix Tape, was a brutal, gut-wrenching memoir about the death of his first wife and all the music that they enjoyed together. This time, the approach is so much more scattershot. The chapters are a series of essays built around various pop songs of the 1980s, when Sheffield was in high school and college. In some cases, the musical selection bears just the slightest relevance to what he's discussing, and in others, like the aiming-for-legendary essay about one-hit wonders Haysi Fantayzee, Sheffield goes into full-throttle investigative journalism mode to learn what the heck it was we were listening to at the time.

Briefly, then, Love is a Mix Tape is a book that I might always own. It's that haunting and affecting of a work. This is like popcorn. I enjoyed it while I read it, but whacking great chunks of it are already lost to me, after just about two weeks. The chapter about driving an ice cream truck was funny, and so was the chapter about never, ever winning a match as a wrestler in high school but... well, I guess that one of these days, I would like to read a book about talking to girls about Duran Duran. That still sounds like it could be a blast, while this is just a curiosity that amused but did not resonate. Recommended as a library check-out.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ampney Crucis Investigates... Vile Bodies

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Ampney Crucis Investigates... Vile Bodies (Rebellion, 2012).

Every once in a while, I run across a book or a comic that feels like it was written specifically with me in mind. So it is with Ampney Crucis Investigates, a series that began in the pages of 2000 AD in 2008 and has presented four stories of Edwardian-era thrills, intrigue, horrors, and parallel universes.

It stars a very intelligent raconteur who, as the Great War began, was primed for high society, but he came back from the battlefields of France forever scarred by what he encountered there, and, after some years in recuperation, he found a new calling assisting police with their inquiries. If that sounds just a little bit like Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey, you're certainly correct. However, Wimsey came back from the War shellshocked by the responsibility of sending young men to their deaths and, later, ably assisted by his former batman Bunter, began a sideline career as an amateur detective. Lord Crucis came back from the war shellshocked by the appearance of a Lovecraftian beast that appeared at the Somme to feed upon the life energy of the thousands who died and, later, ably assisted by his former batman Cromwell, began a sideline career looking into occult phenomena. Totally different.

Unfortunately, Ampney Crucis Investigates never quite rises anywhere near the peaks that Lord Peter Wimsey scales. The series, written by Ian Edginton, is a charming distraction with some surprising meat in its bones, but the 2000 AD need to keep punctuating the story with beat after beat of action and melodrama works against the growth of the characters. Edginton also has difficulty finding a way to write for the cerebral, slower pace of detective fiction, forcing Lord Crucis, awkwardly, into the role of an action hero. I'd say that his collaborator, artist Simon Davis, shoulders some of the blame here. Davis is among my favorite 2000 AD artists, and his design work and layout are tremendously good. Davis has a knack for really hideous monsters, and some bee-human hybrid creatures in the first story are a revolting triumph, but he's never quite been able to paint a person in mid-yell or mouth otherwise agape without that character looking comical. Lord Crucis, eyes wide open and mouth awkwardly contorted in some yawn of rigor, always looks ridiculous when the going gets tough.

But while the series would be greatly improved by either a longer episode or page count and a slower pace, to both let the lead character breathe more and actually do some detecting, there's still a lot to love about what has come so far. I really like the way that Edginton leaves very small details to the side without drawing attention to them. There's actually another character in Lord Crucis's employ, a female chauffeur who silently does her job and leaves the scene. There's also the blink-and-you'll-miss-it detail that he returned from the Somme with a grievous physical injury as well as the mental one. This is a series that definitely rewards additional readings, and while I might have quibbles with what the series is not, I can still be pleased by what has been done.

Rebellion's first collection of the series compiles the first two of the four stories in a slim, 96-page paperback. Their design team disappointed me by changing the otherwise uniform layout of the spine within their large line of 2000 AD books, but they still put a good package together with a pile of extra material from Davis's sketchbook, showing the evolution of some of the characters. They're both very good stories - the second, involving dead soldiers returning to life in Blackpool, is possibly even more outre and stunning than the business with the plant monster and the bee-people in the first, and not merely because of the scene where Lord Crucis lets it all hang out and gets some elderly pensioners to strip for a seance with him - but really, all four storylines could have fit comfortably in one package.

Lord Crucis's fourth adventure, which wrapped in November 2011, had a cliffhanger ending that saw him trapped in another reality. I don't believe that there's been a formal announcement of a fifth story, but I hope that it comes soon, and I also would not mind a one-off episode (or three) that just lets the characters breathe and grow without the need to throw fisticuffs and protect England's green and pleasant land from otherworldly horrors. How about a simple pre-War flashback, Edginton? It's that fun, and there's that much potential in it. Recommended with very minor reservations.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Looking for Rachel Wallace

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Looking for Rachel Wallace (Delacorte, 1980).

Rather than charting out a regular rotation of novels from the Spenser series about which I will write something, I decided that I would just write a few words about Robert B. Parker's fiction on those occasions where I hit something abnormally memorable. Suffice it to say that they're all very interesting and that I recommend each of them, although some with more enthusiasm than others.

1980's Looking for Rachel Wallace is a very, very curious novel, and one more interesting to contemporary eyes as a period piece than as a work of detective fiction. In it, Spenser is hired to act as the bodyguard to a radical, lesbian author. Just by virtue of the fact that she's gay, her public appearances and meetings with lunchtime book clubs attract more controversy and protests than present-day demonstrations and marches for actual marriage attract in 2012. We are still not where we need to be, but we have come a long way in 32 years.

But while the debates are fascinating, a brilliant time capsule of attitudes and perspectives of sex and gender politics during the Carter era, what makes this a real novelty for the genre is that there is no mystery of any kind for the first half of the novel. There are minor moments of excitement as Spenser protects Wallace from ugliness and threats, but his machismo aggravates her too much and she fires him after just a few days on the job. Two months later, Wallace is kidnapped and Spenser is asked to help with the investigation. Naturally, Spenser being Spenser, he says his piece and provides what help he can, and then he goes off and digs into things on his own.

The problem, considering what I prefer from detective fiction, is that there is no mystery here at all. There is really only a single suspect for Wallace's abduction thanks to Parker's decision to link every event reported in the novel's first half into one connected narrative, and nothing that surrounds it comes as any surprise. That is, as the investigation unfolds, this string of events has an unbelievable level of coincidence connecting everything. There is a particularly entertaining scene where Spenser is overwhelmed by four thugs, but gets some good licks in before he goes down, and then, after washing his face and having a shot, goes right back to work more determined than before. Otherwise, the novel has few surprises, and I found it more enjoyable for the politics than anything else.