Fun & Games
Mulholland Books (June 2011)
Hollywood has its own mythology, or maybe it's just really good at revamping the mythologies of other places with a lot of glitz. In either case, Duane Swierczynski has concocted a novel, the first of a trilogy it turns out, that taps into the kind of conspiracy-laden thrill rides only Hollywood could call its own.
Take a washed-out Hollywood starlet, Lane Madden, and put her behind the wheel of a fast car in one of the richer sections of L.A., then have a crew of killers try to run her off the road to make it look like an accident. The killers: a fabled organization called "The Accident People." They're the people who are offing politicians and celebrities in such a way to appear accidental, but still leave a few onlookers wondering if maybe something else is at play.
On the other side of the coin is Charlie Hardie, a retired cop-of-sorts turned house-sitter to the wealthy. The biggest thing on his plate is pitching his tent at his next gig, watching old movies, and getting shitfaced. So when he gets to L.A. on the same day Lane Madden breaks into the house he's hired to look after, inadvertently putting him between her and her would-be assassins, sufficed to say everyone's day is ruined.
The sheer amount of ass this novel kicked cannot be measured. When I started into this book, I was in the mood for a hard-boiled, relentless piece of pulp. I'd been getting a good dose of it this spring from the likes of Jeff Strand, Lee Goldberg, and Joe R. Lansdale, but Swierczynski managed to up the ante with this one. The pace is quick, and punctuated by shifting points of view between Charlie, Lane, as well as a gorgeous ringleader named Mann and her gang of techno-savvy thugs. A scene barely has time to end before a twist is thrown in and the characters are scrambling to recover and start the cat-and-mouse all over again. Well, "cat-and-mouse" might be too delicate a term for the kind of utter torture Charlie and other characters are put through in the course of this novel. Maybe "profanity-laden meatgrinder" would be apt.
The layers of mystery within the story is surprising, as certain things are held back from you as the reader for the sake of intrigue and suspense, and once certain details are revealed, some new question is raised that has you wondering how far down the rabbit hole this thing goes. While the book can be accused of being convoluted, it's done in such a way that it's hard not to appreciate the lengths to which it has been laid out for your enjoyment.
There was only one niggling detail concerning the climax of the story that irked me. I won't go into details, because I don't want to spoil anything for folks tempted to read this book, but there is something about how the book plays out in the end that sucked me out of the story immediately and threatened to ruin the entire experience. Fortunately, it didn't become an overriding factor, and I still walked away from this book utterly satisfied and salivating at the chance to read its sequel, Hell and Gone. This just might be my new favorite novel of the year.