July 15, 2013

Mobsters Vs. Monsters: a review of Chuck Wendig's "The Blue Blazes"

The Blue Blazes (Mookie Pearl #1)

Angry Robot Books (2013)

397 pages

ISBN13: 9780857663351

Mookie Pearl is built like a brick outhouse--with a brain to match. He's hired muscle for the mob in New York City, an alternate version in which the criminal underworld oversees the actual underworld, exploiting its supernatural resources, not to mention keeping at bay the really nasty critters that live down there. That's kind of Mookie's specialty: curbstomping demons and overseeing the extraction of the addictive powder lovingly nicknamed Blue Blazes. Rub a bit of that stuff on your temples, and not only do you feel like a million bucks, but you get the curtain on reality pulled back so you can see all the monsters walking the streets disguised as humans.

The boss is sick though--lung cancer is the word--and Mookie's estranged daughter, Nora, has returned to the city to exact her revenge on the mob, orchestrating a plan with Mookie as her prized pawn, which threatens to have all the rival gangs back at each other's throats. Talk about daddy issues. Mookie is not a tactician, no good with strategy, but he's strong as an ox and will not quit. Where so many urban fantasy novels feature protagonists that ultimately rely more on wit and cunning and adaptability, Chuck Wendig's latest novel goes in a different direction. When the shit hits the fan, Mookie hits back--hard.

Mookie is a brute and a breath of fresh air. The heroes in books so rarely are the hired muscle, the guys never sought for their intellect or ingenuity. Hell, in any other book, Mookie would be a bit player. Someone other than Wendig might have written the book strictly through Nora's PoV or maybe one of the mob's lieutenants with a better position of influence. In The Blue Blazes, Mookie is continually played for a fool, led on one dead-end chase after another, as he tries to figure out what his daughter's plans are and whether the Death Hand actually exists--the rumored element deep in the underworld that can save his boss' life. Some other character might take a more analytical approach, piecing clues together, but all Mookie has is a thick skull well-suited for banging against the skulls of his enemies. And because he isn't a math whiz, he gets outfoxed at nearly every turn. If not for being able to withstand ungodly beatings, he wouldn't have made it past the first act of this novel.

It was pretty hard reading this book and not picking up little vibes reminding me of The Warriors and Sin City and other urban fables that show the underbelly of the city. I didn't get a great sense of New York City in this novel, but everything underneath was presented in incredible fashion, like Hell's version of Alice in Wonderland or something. The characters come off far more vibrant than the settings, which is to be expected, as Wendig is like a mad scientist when it comes to crafting these hard-bitten, hard-livin' characters that practically leap off the page and throttle you. God only knows where the series goes from here, but I'll be sure to check the second book whenever it comes out. If you're a fan of Wendig already, this book will merely preach to the converted. If you're not a fan yet, this book will likely fix that.

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