Sunday, May 6, 2018

Good Guys

Steven Brust's "Good Guys" is a mashup of the private investigation fantasy subgenre, a subgenre that is right in my wheelhouse. Brust is an old pro, the author of the famous "Vlad Taltos", who has published 30 novels. He knows how to write. This book has a cool sort of vibe, kind of an old style detective story. Its stripped down of a lot of unnecessary chatter. Kind of a spare Dashiel Hammett style but with all kinds of Brustian flourishes, including a group doing the investigation, a female Schwartznegger and no female love interest. So while it's grounded in classic detective mode, Brust dots the prose and story with his own style. It works very well as a detective novel, but at the same time, Brust has a monologue with the readers, do we think the investigators are really working for the right side? Keep that in the back of your mind as you read it.

We first meet the team, Donovan Longfellow, aka Laughing Boy, Marci, the mage, and Susan, aka Hippie Girl, the muscle as they investigate how a man was has been killed in broad daylight in a restaurant and no one saw a thing. They all work for the "Foundation". Donovan reports to Becker, his handler in the Foundation that Marci thinks a magical stop motion spell of some kind was used to kill the victim. The Foundation, seems to be run like a business. Donovan works for a field unit that investigates the use of magic in the field.

Brust does not use big information drops to explains things. Rather as part of the story little dollops of information are revealed merely as part of the story. So when Becker suspects that there might have been a magical device used, he goes to the Foundation's Artifacts department to have someone do research. It seems Donovan's job, in part is to stop the leaking of knowledge of magic to the public.

But now a man has died of a mysterious heart attack, and when the team investigates, they are ambushed by a gunman. Hippie Chick disables the gunman. So the killer seems to be trying to stop any investigation. But Donovan just lets the man go after questioning him, as he is merely a hired gun.

It seems the killing is tied to the Mystici, another magical organization. Donovan knows of the Mystici, who also have magical employees, but they are not nice people. Donovan owes the Foundation his life so he works for them, and he likes to think they are the good guys. As Hippie Chick explains, they pay us so little money we must be the good guys.

As the case progresses, Donovan's group discovers that the people getting killed are all associated with the Mystici, whose magicians, sometimes help out bad people. And that the people killed are all dying via magical means in worse and worse ways.

And Donovan and his team are still  being confronted by the killer or his associates in worse and worse ways.

So the good guys are both trying to stop the killers and at the same time trying to survive the killers themselves. But the killers are not killing good people. And Donovan works for the Foundation, that knows the Mystici sometimes lines it pockets by helping bad people. But the Foundation is also employed by the Mystici to protect them.

So who really are the bad guys here. Its a gray world out there.

It's a conundrum that Brust leaves for us to figure out. But I like Donovan's style, and when the real bad guys hurt the good guys, an eye for an eye still passes for justice in my book.

We Are Always Watching

We Are Always WatchingWe Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Ridley family falls on hard times, they're forced to move in with Abraham Ridley, Matt's father. Grandpa Ridley is a real son of a bitch but he's nothing in comparison to the Guardians, persons unknown who have been harassing the Ridleys and the other folk of Buttermilk Creek for generations...

Hunter Shea is the man and I was planning on reading this anyway when I won a copy on Horror After Dark. Thanks!

This isn't your usual Hunter Shea book. I'm a tremendous fan of his creature features starring cryptids and the mayhem they incite but this one was different, a slow-burner with more of a psychological bend.

Since time out of mind, the people of Buttermilk Creek have been harassed by the Guardians, people or creatures that leave threatening notes and that are constantly watching their targets. When West's father, Matt, suffers a brain injury leading to chronic vertigo, their lives fall apart and they leave NYC behind to live with his grandfather. Abraham is an asshole of the highest caliber and blames the family for the Guardians springing into action once again after years of silence.

The book feels like a coming of age tale at first. West is a likeable kid, a fan of horror movies and books. He's enamored with the only pretty girl in town that he's met and wonders about the truth of the Guardians and his own family's troubled past. When shit goes down, he acts in a very believable way and is in no way a Gary Stu.

Hell, the whole Ridely clan is subtly nuanced. Debi resents her husband's condition and keeps on trucking. Matt feels inadequate and pissed off because of his vertigo but can't help but lash out at his family. And Abraham has more than his share of skeletons in his closet.

The book is a slow burner but reaches a fever pitch around the 75% mark, when it goes from coming of age psychological horror to a fucking blood bath. I was felt like a mile of bad road after finishing it.

As always, Hunter Shea continues to impress the shit out of me. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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