October 18, 2013

The Dead Man Takes Manhattan: a review of Joel Goldman's "Freaks Must Die"

Freaks Must Die (Dead Man #10)
by Joel Goldman
47North (2012)
88 pages

After ten installments in the Dead Man series, Matt Cahill has finally arrived in New York City. The vagabond slayer of evil has been to one end of America and the other, so it's about time he paid a visit to the world's largest metropolis. And it turns out that it's an eventful trip, not only in terms of there being evil that needs slaying, but new characters and new twists in the Dead Man mythos appear as well.

While holed up in a motel in Philadelphia, Matt rushes to the rescue of a stranger who's approached by a couple of unsavory characters outside the motel. The guy has a heart attack during the dustup though, and tells Matt before he dies that his son is in trouble. It was supposed to be a ransom exchange, Matt discovers, as the businessman's carrying case was filled with diamonds. Now the father is dead, the bad guys are still out there without their money, and the little boy may soon be killed. So Matt makes tracks for New York to save the boy and stop the bad guys.

Maybe it's me, but I thought Freaks Must Die set the stakes for the book much sooner than previous episodes, introducing the conflict right off the bat and a main villain in the opening scene. Previous episodes have seen Matt sniffing out the omnipresent Mr. Dark's activities in each town he visits, but this one had more of a ticking clock scenario. Matt Cahill also winds up relying much more on supporting characters than in previous episodes, too. One particularly memorable character by the name of Wilson stole the show with his constant referencing his dog, a dog no one can see but him (the story behind that adds a new wrinkle to the Dead Man universe, too).

There are some callbacks to previous events, Freaks Must Die manages to work well enough as a stand-alone, so if folks were curious about the series, they could probably take this book for a test spin and walk away satisfied--and likely craving more. It's one of the stronger offering in the series thus far, and has me curious about Joel Goldman's Alex Stone series and Jack Davis series, too.

If you're familiar with earlier offerings in this series, you're likely to be very entertained by this one. It has a bit more of a hectic pace this time around, with just enough progression in the overall story arc to add intrigue, but there was a bit of a distance to Matt as a character. The action doesn't really slow down enough for very much introspection. Then again, this is The Dead Man, not The Thinking Man. The guy walks around with an ax, not a diary.

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