by Max Wirestone
Series: Dahlia Moss, #1
Hardcover, 304 pg.
Read: October 26 – 27, 2015
So Dahlia Moss needs a job in a pretty bad way — she’s been unemployed for about two years, doesn’t interview well, has less than $20 in the back and is crashing with a friend who’s been super cool about things — but that can’t last forever. Her last relationship ended badly, and she’s lost contact with about everyone but the friend with the great apartment.
So when a complete stranger (who clearly has more money than he knows what to do with) shows up and offers her $2,000 to do a job she knows she’s not qualified for, she jumps at it without much thought. Even when the job is a little on the ridiculous side. Jonah plays an MMORPG called Kingdoms of Zoth, which is like World of Warcraft for people who are too into MMORPGS’s to play something as mainstream as WoW. Recently, someone stole a one-of-a-kind weapon from him, the “Bejeweled Spear of Infinite Piercing,” and he’d like Dahlia (no stranger to Zoth, but not a pro) to track down the thief and retrieve the spear.
Dahlia likes the idea of being a P.I., thinks this case looks pretty easy, and did I mention the $2,000? So she dives in and just starts to make progress when Jonah is found murdered. His family (who has more money than he does) wants her to finish the job, and promises an obscene amount of money for the successful completion of her hunt.
Dahlia doesn’t have someone like Hawk or Joe Pike, she has Charice. Charice is a force of nature — she has a really nice job in PR, has friends in more industries than you can count, and doesn’t take “no” for anything approximating an answer. She believes in Dahlia, and thinks that this whole thing is a hoot — and would probably be egging her on even if she thought it was a disaster.
The rest of the supporting characters are almost as entertaining — from the detectives investigating the murder, to the co-workers at the university who are a tad jealous of him, his guildmates in Zoth (and their off-line counterparts) — they’re all quirky, off-beat and amusing (as is Dahlia’s appraisal and characterization of them). Even the funeral director that we meet for a couple of pages pulls his weight.
But Dahlia is the star — its her voice, her jokes, her outlook on life that drive this thing. If you took Lisa Lutz’ Izzy Spellman and Michael R. Underwood’s Ree Reyes, combined their DNA you’d get Dahlia. Actually, just that procedure sounds like an entertaining read. Now, I really can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t like her, but I’m sure people like that are out there. If you don’t like her after the first chapter, put this one aside and grab the next one down on your TBR pile.
I don’t know if I’ve read a mystery set in St. Louis before. Or anything set there before – well, didn’t Riordan set a demigod battle there? Anyway, while I’m not suggesting that I got a good feel for the city, it was a start, and I’d like to see more. There’s also a trip to a gaming convention that sounds on-the-nose. Probably her time in Zoth captured the feel of such a place, I don’t know.
It’s pretty-well paced, and the mix of personal stories with her detecting keep the mood and illustrate Dahlia’s mindset (and the gradual character growth she goes through). By the end, when she’s focused on earning the money and figuring everything out, things pick up straight-through to the action-packed and very slapsticky end (very amusing to visualize this).
You don’t have to be a geek (or know any) to enjoy this — but it’d help. I do have to admit, I had to enlist the help of my son to decode one “hard-core Pokémon reference” that Dahlia made, and had to google a literary reference that I should’ve remembered. But if you didn’t take those steps, it wouldn’t detract much from your appreciation (my son was at work when I came across it, so it was hours before he could explain it to me).
Outlandish? Yup. Almost as Fantasy-based as Zoth itself? Absolutely. But you know what? I just don’t care. This book is too much fun to worry about things like that — a breezy, goofy read that’s sure to please. I hope there’s more to come from Wirestone, whether it’s with these characters or another batch, I look forward to seeing what comes next.