Fletch and the Widow Bradley (Audiobook) by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller: An oddly contemporary-feeling Fletch novel that’s good but not really good.

Fletch and the Widow Bradley (Audiobook)Fletch and the Widow Bradley

by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller (Narrator)
Series: Fletch, #4 (#3 Chronologically)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs., 28 min.
Blackstone Audio, 2018

Read: April 1 – 4, 2019

Fletch checks in to his office before returning from a few days away to find out that he’s fired. He’d filled in for an injured colleague to write a profile on a small local business that the Gazette had written an exposé about a few years before, just to see how they were doing in the aftermath. They were doing fine, and Fletch had quoted recent memos from the CEO demonstrating that. The teeny tiny problem there is that the particular CEO had been dead for a couple of years. Quoting corpses is generally frowned upon (unless you’re writing about voters’ views on Chicago politicians, I guess), and so Fletch is fired. Not only that, he’s probably finished forever as a journalist.

Understandably, Fletch is incensed. He’s angry. He’s also mystified — he knows what he read. He knows he did good work — how did they fool him? More importantly, why? If his career is over, he’s going to know why it happened. So he starts interviewing those nearest the dead man — his business associates, family, and so on — he eventually flies across the country a couple of times (and up to Alaska, too).

At this point in Fletch’s life, he is notoriously dead broke — recently divorced (again) with attorneys looking for alimony payments, and (as mentioned) fired. So how does he afford the gas and airline travel? Well, he found a walled with a whole lot of money in it and cannot find the owner. So he borrows a little bit. This is a very odd little storyline that I honestly have never fully understood. Not the events in it, but the reasoning behind its inclusion in the book. Other than to give Moxie (more about her in a moment) and Fletch something to talk about, and to give Fletch money for plane tickets.

Now, close readers might pick up a thing or two (if they haven’t read the books anyway) — I said Gazette (the paper that Fletch was almost certainly fired from after Fletch) and “at this point in” his life and “recently divorced.” This is the first time where Mcdonald bounces back in time for a novel — this is why I’ve noted publication order and chronological order in my post headings for this series. Mcdonald needs Fletch to have a newspaper job to tell this story — and post Fortune, that’s not really likely (it’s not like he needs the money). This chronological flexibility is both rare in a series like this one, and will become a hallmark of the books.

The best reason to read this book is the introduction of the character Moxie Mooney. Moxie’s an actress — daughter of the legendary Freddie Mooney — a major acting star of both stage and screen. Moxie’s still struggling to make it at this point, but she’s got talent. She’s also a long-time on-again/off-again romantic partner to Fletch. There’s more chemistry between the two, more genuine feelings and more obvious compatibility between Moxie and Fletch than there is between any two people in this series. She’s funny, she’s quirky, she’s driven — not unlike Irwin Maurice himself. I’m not sure how often I would have re-read the book without her

At the end of the day, this one doesn’t have the same impact and entertainment value most of the rest of the series does. There are some great moments — and I love Moxie — but there’s something missing from this one. Still, Fletch books are like that old line about pizza — when it’s good, it’s really good; and when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

—–

3 Stars
2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

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That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire: Annie at the Crossroads (literally, mystically, metaphorically, and probably a couple of other adverbs, too)

That Ain't WitchcraftThat Ain’t Witchcraft

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #8

Paperback, 357 pg.
Daw Books, 2019
Read: April 24 – 29, 2019

           I didn’t know these woods. I’d never been to Maine before, and [didn’t have any of the family bestiaries to prepare me for what I might find. There are cryptids everywhere in the world, which only makes sense, when you consider “cryptid” means “science doesn‘t know about it yet.” New species are discovered every year, brought into the scientific fold and lifted out of cryptozoological obscurity. These days the word mostly gets used to mean the big stuff some people say is real and other people say is a big hoax, like Bigfeet, unicorns, and the occasional giant snake.

(Always assume the giant snakes are real. The alternative is finding yourself being slowly digested in the belly of something you didn’t want to admit existed, and while I’m as fond of healthy skepticism as the next girl, I’m a lot more fond of continuing to have my original skin. As in, the one I was born with, not the one the snake has left me with after a little recreational swallowing me whole.)

After Annie, Sam, Fern and Cylia leave Florida and the disaster that was left in their wake, they bounce around a little before settling on something that is about as non-Florida as you can get on that side of the country — central Maine. They find a house that needs a tenant for a few months while the owner is off to Europe and settle in to enjoy a time off the roads to regroup, rest and recuperate.

Ahh, such a good idea.

But first, they meet a neighbor, James Smith. It turns out that he’s a sorcerer, who’s itching for a fight with the Crossroads for the way they fulfilled (or didn’t) a deal with a friend of his from a few years’ back. Annie owes the Crossroads something, and it just might come time to pay up — which isn’t good news for James. If that wasn’t enough, Leonard Cunningham — Annie’s Covenant connection and the presumptive future leader of the group comes to town on her tail.

So much for the three R’s.

Annie’s solution to the problems she faces here is so… Annie. On the one hand, this is obvious, she’s a different character than Alex or Verity — and this series has never been the kind where the Price kids are interchangeable. But there is just no way that Verity or Alex would even consider doing what Annie tries. In many ways, she reminded me of Harry Dresden with the way that she dealt with the final problem. No, not by throwing a lot of fire, snark and energy around, but by coming at the problem in a way that you just don’t see coming (although, that’s not ruling out snark and fire) that seems more than a little reckless. Up to that point, Annie and crew had reminded me a lot of Sam and Dean Winchester and their crew.

This was really such a great way to wrap up this Annie arc — it’s going to be hard to put her aside for a book or three. Verity’s a lot of fun, Alex is a great reluctant hero who’d rather be researching things — but Annie? Annie’s really my kind of Urban Fantasy character — in the vein of Dresden, Atticus O’Sullivan, Ree Reyes, etc. And her friends are a lot of fun, too. The only thing this book is missing that’d really make it fantastic are the Aeslin mice — their absence is felt, particularly because Annie can’t stop thinking about them. Of all the things that McGuire has brought into my life, these mice are my favorite — and it’s been too long since I’ve had a decent dose of them.

I’m not sure how to talk about this without digging into details — and I’m this close to tossing out my spoiler policy and pulling an all-nighter to produce 20-30 pages about the InCryptid Dire Straits Trilogy. So much of what makes this book work is as its the culmination of this trilogy-within-the-greater-series. While I don’t think the book is perfect, I don’t remember a single problem I had with it — and felt the same way while reading it. Everything worked — the voice, the characters, the villains, the stakes, the challenges, the solution, the emotions, the quips, the action. I spent a good deal of time unsure how many of Annie’s little group were going to survive, and this isn’t normally that kind of series. I don’t think I actually shed a tear at the height of the novel — they weren’t far from the surface. This met and exceeded every expectation I had for this book and made me rethink my estimation of the series as a whole.

This is easily the best of this very good series — in fact, were this the final book in the series, I’d be satisfied. I’m very, very glad that it isn’t — please don’t misunderstand — but if it were… Heart, humor, thrills, and a very clever conclusion, pulled off in a way that the whole series has been leading to, but you don’t see coming. I don’t know how McGuire can equal it — much less top it. But since we’re talking Seanan McGuire, she will, probably not in book 9, but soon. Go get it — you’ll be better off if you start with #1 (Discount Armageddon), but you could get away with starting at #6 (Magic for Nothing), you can still appreciate a lot of the goodness if you jump on here, but you’ll miss so much you won’t enjoy it the way you could.

—–

5 Stars

Fletch’s Fortune (Audiobook) by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller: Possibly the Most Entertaining Entry in this Great Series

Fletch’s Fortune (Audiobook)Fletch’s Fortune

by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller (Narrator)
Series: Fletch, #3 (#7 Chronologically)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs., 51 min.
Blackstone Audio, 2018
Read: March 26 – 29, 2019

           “I.R.S.,” the man said.

Fletch slid the door open. “How do you spell that?”

“Internal Revenue Service.”

. . .
“As a matter of personal curiosity, may I ask why you have not filed returns?”

“April’s always a busy month for me. You know. In the spring a young man’s fancy really shouldn’t have to turn to the Internal Revenue Service.”

“You could always apply for extensions.”

“Who has the time to do that?”

“Is there any political thinking behind your not paying taxes?”

“Oh no. My motives are purely aesthetic, if you want to know the truth.”

“Aesthetic?”

“Yes. I’ve seen your tax forms. Visually, they’re ugly. In fact very offensive. And their use of the English language is highly objectionable. Perverted.”

“Our tax forms are perverted?”

“Ugly and perverted. Just seeing them makes my stomach turn.”

It’s conversations like this that make this possibly the most entertaining Fletch novel. My memory suggests there’s a one or two challenges to that coming up, but at least one of them gets too preachy and disqualifies itself (I’ll try to mention that when we get there). Fletch, shed of his fiancé from the previous book, is enjoying life in his home on the Riviera and puttering along on his biography of Edgar Arthur Thorp, Jr. One day, he’s accosted by a pair of CIA agents who blackmail him (using the above referenced lack of tax filing) into bugging the rooms of the most influential journalists in the US at a journalism convention.

He’s not crazy about this assignment, but at the very least he figures there’s a good story in there somewhere. So he heads back to the States and plants his bugs and starts to tape many of the most illustrious members of the press. The catch (of course there’s a catch) is that the president of the American Journalism Association and owner of many, many major newspapers is murdered the morning as conventioneers start to arrive.

So, not only does Fletch have to put up with attending a convention, and–under duress–to listen in on his colleagues — but he also has to compete with some of the most story-hungry people in the US to be the first to break the story unveiling the murderer.

We also meet for the first time Fredericka “Freddy” Arbuthnot — one of my chief complaints about this series is that we don’t get more time with her. She’s fun here, and her fans should rest assured that we see her again soon — used in a better way, too (not a complaint about her appearance in Fletch’s Fortune, I rush to say). She’s just one of the incredibly colorful characters assembled at this convention — which allows McDonald to skewer all the foibles and weaknesses of the contemporary media (at least for the late 70’s, which just sets the stage for now). I couldn’t guess how many times I’ve read this book, and I still find them all wonderfully fun to watch.

There’s a blink and you missed it moment that’s incredibly important for the future of the series, and it can’t have been planned. But decades later, McDonald is able to use to open up whole new avenues for telling his sores.

It’s so easy to get distracted by the fun conversations, the satirizing of the press and the general Fletch antics, to the point that you miss just how clever McDonald is to pull off one of his most clever whodunits. I’d rank this among the best mysteries that McDonald penned, too.

Once again, Miller delivers this one just right. I don’t know what else to say — he was the perfect choice for this series and I’m so glad I gave them a chance.

I’m just repeating myself now, so I’ll stop. Between entertainment value, construction of the mystery, social/media satire, and audiobook narration I can’t say enough good things about this audiobook. McDonald is at the height of his powers here and it’s a sheer pleasure to pick up again (no matter the format).

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Duncan MacMaster

So, a couple of days ago, I re-ran the first batch of answers that MacMaster was kind enough to give. He f̶o̶o̶l̶i̶s̶h̶l̶y̶ generously agreed to answer some more questions for Fahrenbruary, which enabled me to focus more on the Kirby Baxter books. Hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did. There is gold below, folks (maybe a little dross, too, but mostly gold)

Tell us about your background and road to publication.
Small town 80s kid, film school survivor, who spent an awfully long time doing crappy jobs and collecting rejection letter horror stories. I had written A Mint-Conditioned Corpse quite some time before it was published. Quite a few years in fact, and it was rejected by dozens of agents and publishers over those years. One publisher had said they liked it, but another book set at a comic convention hadn’t done well, so they were rejecting mine, even though it was a different genre.

For a long time it gathered digital dust in my computer’s files. Then I encountered Chris McVeigh and Fahrenheit Press on twitter. They started following me before I submitted to them, and then they participated in an open call on twitter for book pitches. I pitched them Mint, they and another publisher expressed interest. I sent a copy to both, and about a week later Chris emailed me, telling me that he was halfway through, and asked if I had any plans for a sequel. I said yes, and a day or so later he finished reading Mint and invited me to join the Fahrenheit family. Since then I’ve published two Kirby Baxter mysteries, Mint, and Video Killed the Radio Star, and a stand-alone thriller called Hack, all with Fahrenheit.

I’ve made no secret that I’ve become a giant Kirby Baxter fan — it took a whole 8% of the first book to make me one — where did Kirby come from?
Thanks for enjoying Baxter and his gang. As for his origins, it was mostly from frustration. I have a notebook in a box somewhere that contains a very rough outline for what was then called “Drawn To Death,” and it is a wildly different story. That version was more of a broad farce. In this version my lead character was a “comic book guy” stereotype. An overweight, obnoxious, socially awkward, all-together unpleasant character.

I looked it over, and it annoyed me. Because it was all just lame exaggerated situations and jokes built around that negative “comic book guy” stereotype. I didn’t want to build a book around negatives like that.

I then decided to start all over again from scratch. (Something I do quite often with projects) I decided to show that there’s more positives to geek culture than that guy you see on The Simpsons.

So I created Kirby Baxter.

I named Kirby Baxter in honour of Jack Kirby, and the Baxter Building from the Fantastic Four. I made him thin, geeky, charming, but in a slightly awkward way. Then I decided that he would need complete freedom of travel, so I made him accidentally rich. Then I realized that he needed some brawn to accompany his brain, as well as allies he could talk to, so I created Gustav, Molly, and then his pal Mitch. I also realized that it’s not easy for an amateur to butt in on a criminal investigation, so I made up Baxter’s status as a part-time “special consultant” for Interpol, which gives him some privileges, as well as many responsibilities.

The only thing I kept from that original outline was the setting of a comic convention, and “Dick Wilco” as the name of a reclusive comics legend who mentored Baxter.

Mitch is a very fun character (and I hope to see him again soon, hint, hint) — but I can easily see where he’d become “too much” and step over the line from “amusing comic relief” to “annoying secondary character” — how do you approach that kind of character? How do you keep him from becoming annoying?
Mitch acts as the Id to Baxter who is a very rational and sober character. Mitch blurts out the things Baxter will never say, make the mistakes Baxter would never make, and it’s a serious risk for someone like Mitch to go from being comic relief to a real pain in the butt.

One way to avoid that is to limit his appearances. Mitch is mentioned, but does not appear in Video Killed the Radio Star, but his role as the id of the story is taken up by a new character named Shelley Flugen. She’s a celebrity gossip blogger, and latches herself onto Baxter’s team in hopes of landing a big scoop.

While Shelley played a similar role to Mitch in her relationship with Baxter, she’s a very different person from Mitch. Where Mitch sees himself as a trickster, Shelley sees herself as a journalist and an investigator in her own right. Which leads to different situations and a totally different kind of comic relief.

Mitch will return, but it’s best to keep him in controlled doses.

I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
I’m not trying to brag, but I don’t really get many bad reviews. The worst thing that was said, was that someone described my book as “wordy.” Which is odd, because I tend to be pretty ruthless when it comes to cutting out needless words.

I try to avoid that sort of trollish negativity, because it’s just not worth it to let them run your life. If they don’t like you, or your work, they’re not your audience.

Last time, you said something about “a more experimental project examining male archetypes in crime fiction and the concept of the unreliable narrator.” Can you update us on that? Is there anything else your readers should be watching for?
My project about male archetypes and unreliable narrators is on the back burner right now, because when you write what I call a “puzzle box” story with multiple narrators, all contradicting each other, either by ignorance, or design, it can overwhelm you, and in this case another project jumped out and tackled me with incredible immediacy.

Right now I’m putting together a potential third Baxter novel that was inspired by recent documentaries that caused a lot of buzz on social media. This material is so ripe for satire, and for homicide. It was just too perfect for Baxter to pass up, and I have to act fast to capture that immediacy, that freshness. Strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.

As this Q&A is inspired by Fahrenbruary, I figure I should give you another opportunity to say something nice about your publisher and the culture around it. Or heck, go full punk and say something horrible about them.
The most horrible thing I could say about Fahrenheit is that not enough people buy Fahrenheit books. Seriously, they are a publisher who has something for everyone, the sort of diversity and variety you just won’t find with most of the big publishers.

Get out there and buy Fahrenheit books. Not just mine, but they’re a good way to start, but check out the whole catalogue. You will find something to love.

Was that punk enough for you?

Thanks for your time, Mr. MacMaster — and thanks for the great reads, I can’t wait to see what you have in store.

Fahrenbruary Repost: Video Killed the Radio Star by Duncan MacMaster: A Murder Mystery as Fun as The Buggles’ Song

(or the cover by The Presidents of the United States of America, either will work)

Video Killed the Radio StarVideo Killed the Radio Star

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Kirby Baxter, #2

Kindle Edition, 261 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: October 15 – 16, 2018

“I fear we will never be mistaken for the Algonquin Round Table.”

“We’ll have to work on our witty repartee,” said Molly. “I plan on taking a course on banter, ripostes, badinage, and persiflage.”

“Even persiflage?”

“Especially persiflage,” said Molly. “There is nothing worse than sub-par persiflage.”

“You might need to get a sub-par persiflage lanced.”

“We’ve hit the nonsense phase of the night earlier than usual.”

“I like nonsense,” said Kirby, “it distracts me.”

Kirby Baxter just wants to live a quiet life out of the spotlight: hanging out with his girlfriend, Molly, when he can; restoring a car with his valet/bodyguard/etc.; and drawing his comics. And now that the excitement about the murder he solved at Omnicon dying down, he’s on the verge of doing that. But the mayor of his hometown knows Kirby, and has no shame in extorting his cooperation with a small problem that he’s having.

You see, one of the town’s major landmarks — an old, abandoned mansion — is in dire need of upkeep and remodeling. And a reality show full of C-List celebrities (maybe D- or E-list) have recently set up shop to do that work. But the city’s having second thoughts and they want Kirby and his über-perception skills to find a reason to shut down production and send them packing to disrupt another locale.

Kirby visits the production, talks to the cast and producers, looks around and comes up with a lot of observations and conclusions — and could cause a lot of inconvenience and embarrassment for everyone involved from those observations — but he can’t find what the mayor wants. That accomplished, he gets back to pursuing his best life now — which lasts just a few hours. Because before he can start to collect from the mayor for the work, one of the celebrities is found dead.

So, it’s back to the mansion for Kirby, this time to act as a consultant ot the local police as they investigate this suspicious death. Which is soon followed by another. And an attack on another cast member. And . . . well, you get the idea.

It’s nice that MacMaster didn’t repeat the whole “Kirby has to win over a skeptical and antagonistic police officer” thing — this time, thanks to most of the force having grown up with him, they all accept his talents and skills — an expect him to deliver.

The cast of the reality show, “Million Dollar Madhouse,” is filled with the typical collection of has-beens, almost-weres, and celebs trying to stage a comeback. Initially, I rolled my eyes at each of them, but the more time I spent with them, the more I appreciated and enjoyed them. In particular, the Kardashian-esque character totally won me over. Like in the previous book, there’s a large cast of characters that MacMaster juggles expertly — there are so many suspects to the murders, as well as witnesses for Kirby and the police to wade through.

Almost every serious suspect has the same defense — they didn’t want the initial victim dead. They wanted him to make a fool out of himself on national TV, possibly seriously injuring himself with a power tool. Some would follow that up with some other form of revenge — but if he’s dead, no one could get the revenge they wanted. It’s not ideal, but it’s an honest defense.

Gustave was slightly less super-human this time out — but he’s still in the Ranger/Hawk/Joe Pike nigh-impossible stratosphere. As much as I like everyone else in this series, it’s arguable that Gustave is MacMaster’s best creation — not just the character, but how MacMaster uses him.

I did miss Mitch. But was glad to see Molly and Kirby talk about him — and even make a joke he wasn’t around to make himself. It’s probably good that he wasn’t around — it’ll mean when we see him again, it’ll be easy to appreciate him without worrying about over exposure.

In the place of Mitch, we have Molly’s assertive and cunning cousin — she runs a gossip-website and wheedles her way into the investigation in order to land a story big enough to put her and her site on the map. Kirby clearly vacillates between finding uses for her and finding her distracting.

Molly and Kirby are cuter together than they were previously, and I could watch the two of them banter any day. It seemed harder to incorporate Molly into the story this time, and hopefully it’s easier for MacMaster in Kirby #3, but as difficult as it was, it was absolutely worth it.

I’m not sure exactly what it is about MacMaster’s writing that works so well for me, but it does. Just before I started writing this, I started to draw some parallels between these Kirby Baxter books and Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game and The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel). I didn’t have time to fully flesh this idea out, but Raskin’s work definitely was formative for me and if the comparison hold up, that could explain a lot. The mix of humor, real emotions and complex mystery is the sweet spot for me and MacMaster consistently hits it. It’s not easy, there are precious few who try — and fewer that succeed. This is the third novel I’ve read by him and it seals the deal, I’ll buy everything he writes as soon as I can without really looking at what the book is about.

I was a little worried that this book wouldn’t live up to A Mint-Conditioned Corpse, and I don’t think it did — but I don’t know what could have for me. I’d enjoyed the other so much that it’s almost impossible to live up to — and the reality show setting didn’t do anything for me — they just leave me cold. The fact I’m rating Video Killed the Radio Star as high as I am is all about how effortlessly charming and entertaining this seems. Effortless always, always, always equals blood, sweat and tears — or at least a lot of work. This must’ve taken a great deal of labor, and it was absolutely worth it. A clever mystery, clever dialogue, and very clever characters in a funny, twisty story. The Kirby Baxter books are must reads, no doubt about it. Give this one a shot — I don’t see how you can’t enjoy it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: A Mint-Conditioned Corpse by Duncan MacMaster: I run out of superlatives and can’t stop talking about this Mystery that filled me with joy.

Kirby Baxter is possibly my favorite new-to-me character from 2018, you can probably tell that from these next two reposts…And, yes, I’m sticking with the classic cover, although the paperback I bought myself last year has a niftier cover.

This is one of those times that I liked something so much that I just blathered on for a bit, and I’m not sure how much sense it made. The first and last paragraphs are coherent, I’m not really sure the rest is…

A Mint Condition CorpseA Mint Condition Corpse

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Kirby Baxter, #1
Kindle Edition, 275 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: July 27, 2018

Is this the best-writing I’ve encountered in a Detective Novel this year? Nope. Is this the most compelling, the tensest thrill-ride of a Mystery novel this year? Nope. Is this full of the darkest noir, the grittiest realism, the starkest exposure of humanity’s depths? Good gravy, no! This is, however, a joy to read; full of characters you’ll want to spend days with, that you’ll want to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to lighten things up and distract you from Aunt Martha’s overcooked yams and dry turkey; a completely fun time that’s very likely most I’ve enjoyed a book in 2018. It is escapist. It is silly. It is clever.

Think Monk at it’s best. Psych at its least annoying. Castle at it’s most charming. Moonlighting season 1 — I’m going to stop now.

So Kirby Baxter is a comic book writer/artist who breathed new life into a stagnant character which led to the revitalizing of an entire comic book company (not quite as old as DC, nowhere near as successful as Marvel — and somehow hadn’t been bought out by either). He was unceremoniously fired just before he became incredibly well-off (and investments only improved that). Following his new wealth, a thing or two happened in Europe and he gained some notoriety there helping the police in a few countries. Now, he’s coming back to North America to attend OmniCon — a giant comic con in Toronto — returning to see a mentor rumored to attend and maybe stick his toe back in the industry that he loves.

While there we meet his colorist and friend, Mitch — a diminutive fellow, convinced he’s God’s gift to the ladies (most of whom hope he comes with a gift receipt), and just a riot to read about. Molly, a fan, former coworker and friend of Kirby’s who wears her heart on her sleeve (it’s not her fault if people don’t notice it). That needs to be better. Erica is many a dream-come-true — an impossibly good-looking model and would-be actress who is sincere and sweet. Her assistant Bruce is a pretty good guy, too. Her best friend and former mentor, Andi is almost as too-good-to-be-true, and married to a renowned DJ who is providing some of the entertainment at OmniCon. There’s comic dealers, a film director, a crazy actress, Kirby’s former boss, and so many other colorful characters that my notes include a joke about a cast the size of Game of Thrones.

And then there’s Gustav. Words I don’t know how to describe Gustav. Imagine having Batman as your Jeeves. He’s a valet/driver/bodyguard that Kirby picked up in Europe, combining the cool and lethal factor of Spenser’s Hawk, Plum’s Ranger and Elvis’ Pike (except he makes Pike seem chatty). I’d include Wolfe’s Saul Panzer, but Saul isn’t the lethal type that the rest are — but Gustav has the effortless magic about him that makes Saul a winner. If the rest of the book was “meh” and Gustav was still in it? I’d tell you to read the book.

At some point, a corpse shows up — and like the comic book world’s answer to Jessica Fletcher, Kirby identifies the death as a murder — not the accident it appears to be to many. For various and sundry reasons — starting with him being correct, and continuing on to the incidents in Europe — Kirby is roped into helping the police with the investigation. Also, like Fletcher, he’s uniquely gifted to help the police in these circumstances. He’s smart, he has a eidetic memory, can catch a tell or a microexpression like nobody’s business. You throw him into a consulting role with the police, with his friends along for the ride and I’m telling you, you’ve got the most entertaining mystery novel I’ve read this year.

This book’s look at comic conventions reminded me of A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl. But where this one is played for laughs, Proehl was serious — but both show an appreciation for, an affection for the culture that surrounds the cons and the people involved. After reading this, I was ready to buy tickets for the OmniCon.

It’s a funny, fast, romp — a very contemporary take on a Golden Age-mystery. Lots of twists and turns, more crimes than you think are happening and more villains than you can shake a stick at. I thought (and still do) that Duncan MacMaster’s Hack showed that he was an author to keep an eye on — this is better.

A Mint-Conditioned Corpse hit the sweet spot for me — a convergence of so many of my likes told with just the right tone (another one of my likes), while maintaining a pretty decent whodunit at the core. I probably smiled for the entire time I spent reading it — well, at least the last 90% once I started to get a feel for things — at 8% I made a note about Kirby “I’m really going to like him,” and a few paragraphs later, I wrote “I already really like him” about Mitch. And I was right about Kirby, and kept liking Mitch — the rest of the characters are about as good as them, and the story is as good as the people in it are. Is everyone going to enjoy this one as much as me? Nope. But I can’t imagine someone not having a ball reading this. Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.

—–

5 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: A Few Quick Questions With…Duncan MacMaster

Not only did the good people at Fahrenheit Press provide me with Duncan MacMaster’s Hack (which I just posted about), I got an interview with Mr. MacMaster as well! As usual, this is short and sweet, he’s got better things to do than come up with clever answers for me, y’know? Seriously, loved his answers. Give this a read and then scurry out to buy his book.

Would you like to give the elevator pitch for Hack? (for that matter, if you want to throw one in for A Mint Condition Corpse, that’d be fine, too)
The elevator pitch for Hack would be: A desperate man is hired to ghostwrite the autobiography of a washed up TV star with scandal in his past and murder in his future.

The pitch for A Mint Condition Corpse would be: A semi-retired artist’s trip to his favourite comic book convention is spoiled by murder, and only he can solve it.

Do you have experience as a Ghost Writer? Is Hack your way working out some demons? Or does it have a much more benign genesis?
I never specifically worked as a ghostwriter. I did do things like selling jokes to comedians (no one you ever heard of) so I know a bit about doing something that someone else gets credit for.

There is a certain amount of exorcism in the genesis of Hack. By the time I got to writing it I had spent a very long time getting metaphorically kicked in the head by the writing business. The joke market had dried up, and I spent years enduring rejections that ranged from the incoherent to the callous, and some career setbacks that were downright ridiculous.

As you could guess, those experiences left some demons that needed to be exorcised, and Jake Mooney, the hack writer of the title, did it for me. Jake’s had a life defined by setbacks and it’s made him bitter, cynical, and lonely. He sees being a credited author as a step towards some redemption as a writer, and solving the crimes as an attempt at redeeming himself as a human being.

Of course none of this was conscious while I was writing it. While putting down that first draft all I could think about was the plot, the characters and making sure everything made sense. I didn’t discover what I had done with Jake’s and my own hunger for redemption and validation until working on later drafts.

It was different with my first crime novel A Mint Condition Corpse. That started with a conscious decision to make Kirby Baxter, card-carrying comics geek, the Sherlockian hero instead of the comedy relief sidekick, and to use him as a vehicle to combine mystery with a satire of pop culture and the people who run it. Hack, has a lot more of my id running amok in it.

You’ve done a little in other genres, but your publications seem to be predominately in the Crime/Mystery genre. What is it about the genre that brings you back? Is there a genre you particularly enjoy, but don’t think you could write?
I’ve dabbled in science fiction, fantasy, and even horror, and I do plan to do more in those genres in the future, but mystery/crime does seem to have a grip on me. Probably because it deals with people who are at the extremes of their emotions, and also because it’s a genre that’s is still a wide open field when it comes to narrative possibilities.

I always credit my narrative style to SCTV. It was a sketch comedy show I watched as a child that parodied television and movies, and it taught me that popular culture is loaded with tropes and cliches that create expectations in the audience. If you know them and understand them, then you can use them to manipulate expectations to misdirect, surprise, amuse, and hopefully amaze the audience.

When I started reading crime fiction in my teens I began to see the patterns inherent in the genre, and started seeing how they could be manipulated to create something new and entertaining.

As for a genre I enjoy, but don’t think I could write….well, I’m not sure. I’m sure readers would tell me if I really screwed up. My bet would be on straight up horror without any sort of mystery to solve inside it.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog, a relatively slim volume that contains an epic inside. It sets a high standard that I hope to come close to some day. For the most part I tend to avoid reading fiction while I’m writing. I have a bad habit of inadvertently imitating whoever I’m reading. I wrote some truly dreadful pastiches while I was on a Lovecraft reading binge in my early twenties. All sorts of gooey overwrought eldritch nonsense.
This one’s not about you directly, but what is it about Fahrenheit Press that seems to generate the devotion and team spirit that it does (or at least appears to)? I don’t know that I’ve seen as many authors from the same publisher talk about/read each other’s books — or talk about the publisher — as much as you guys seem to. Is it simply contractual obligation, or is there more?
There’s no contractual obligation for camaraderie at Fahrenheit Press, or the House of Love, as our fearless leader likes to call it.

I can sum it up this way: Joining Fahrenheit is like joining a punk band in the mid-70s.

We don’t know what the future holds, or what we will achieve in the end. All we do know is that we are a band of misfits who are all doing what we love, we’re breaking rules and conventions that some thought were inviolate, and that we are all in this wild ride together.

Fahrenheit has been the best experience I’ve ever had in publishing, and I’m sure my fellow authors will agree with me on that.

What’s next for Duncan MacMaster?
I just finished the first draft of a sequel to A Mint Condition Corpse, called Video Killed The Radio Star, and the brutal editing/rewrite process awaits me. I’m also developing a more experimental project examining male archetypes in crime fiction and the concept of the unreliable narrator. I am even outlining a potential sequel to Hack called Hacked, where Jake goes Hollywood. I’m hoping to complete all these projects and make them worthy of publication as soon as possible.

What happens after that, is anyone’s guess.

Thank you for having me on your blog.

Thanks for your time — I really appreciate it, and hope that the Hack‘s release is successful (as it deserves).