The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Mookie Pearl has been working for the Organization for most of his adult life. When his boss reveals he has terminal cancer, who should show up just in time to exploit that than Mookie's own daughter? And who is the mysterious Candlefly that has shown up to help The Boss in his hour of need? And what do the creatures of the Underworld have to say about the situation?
It's hard to summarize a novel that packs so many great ideas between two covers. The easiest way I can think of to pitch The Blue Blazes to people is to say "Neverwhere Noir."
The Blue Blazes is the latest of Chuck Wendig's innovative urban fantasies. The main character, Mookie Pearl, is a thick-headed mountain of a man working for the Organization, the criminal syndicate that controls NYC at street level. Below the streets is another story entirely, for that is the Underworld, the territory of Gobbos, Roach-Rats, Snakefaces, and things a thousand times worse.
The Blue Blazes of the title is the street name for a drug that lets the user see beneath the veil, revealing half and halfs and other mystical creatures for what they are. It goes a long way toward explaining the usual urban fantasy conceit of monsters living among us more or less undetected.
This isn't your grandmother's urban fantasy. Instead of lightly flirting with the hardboiled noir genre, The Blue Blazes has it's way with it hard and rough in the filthy alley behind the porno theater. Mookie's no white knight. He's a thug and a murderer and does what he has to do. He actually reminds me of Richard Stark's Parker, only with more muscles and much less brain. The conflict between Mookie and Nora is what keeps the book rocketing forward, even when everyone's having a chat.
The situation looks like one of the standard criminal fiction plots at first: the boss is going down and a lot of people are wondering who is going to fill the void. Will it be Nora, Mookie's estranged daughter? Will it be the Boss's grandson? Will it be Candlefly?
The mythology of the world Wendig has created is unique: there are no vampires, werewolves, or women wanting to have sex with vampires or werewolves. There are cities of the dead in the Underworld but they aren't populated by zombies. I love the concept of the pigments and the powers they confer. I could go on for paragraphs about the Hungry Ones, the Naga, the gangs, soul cages, etc.
Mookie muscles his way through the plot like a meat-cleaver-wielding battering ram. Much like the fabled Timex, he takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. By the time the Blue Blazes was over, I was simultaneously dismayed that the journey was completed but also somehow relieved.
4.5 stars. I want more Mookie!
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