This first-of-three novella dives straight into the deep end, immersing the reader in a different time for Earth (pre-WWII Spain) and a different (paranormal) social structure, with politics, power grabs, and factions which use heavy-handed, even brutal tactics against even their own allies. Frohock gets the majority of this scene-setting done in the first two chapters, which is remarkable, as by this time the plot is in full swing, the MC is under pressure to rescue his lover and at the same time, frustrated by his own history tripping him up both directly (in the form of a secret which now must be revealed) and and indirectly (via another person who will be dear to him and presumably traded off the other).
Well, for you VI Warshawsky fans, there is another woman walking in the noir aisle of your local bookstore. Sandler’s Janelle Watkins is darker, more flawed (physically as well as emotionally) than VI, and Sandler milks the genre for all the grittiness and darkness such a character allows. The presentation of the story is interesting as Sandler mixes in first-person with third-person peeks at the antagonist, which she does with a flair that reminds me of early Stephen King (think Dead Zone). For most of the book, Sandler throws enough dust in the readers eyes to keep us guessing, and I enjoyed the tension both in the buildup to climax as well as the romantic tension between a couple of characters (which she handles well, no cringing here). In the end the plot ties itself together a bit more niftily than I expected but there are twists enough to satisfy anyone (such as this reviewer) who has enjoyed Spade, Marlowe, and yes, even Poirot 🙂
Yes, I have reblogged myself – centralizing all book reviews here at W&W.
Warning: profanity follows. I’m not exactly the epitome of discretion myself when I speak, and I’ve been known to have characters who explode with the occasional socially awkward expression, but usually my expository writing is clean. But there is really no way to write cleanly of this particular novel. Fair warning.
McBride has come out of the gate with a very different book than the frenetic (and fun) pinball game that was Frank Sinatra in a Blender. That was a wild ride, focused set of characters, brash, loud, gory as heck and gleefully so. A carnival ride. In Red Sun, McBride establishes an entirely new genre: Southern Literary Tweaker. That’s not a slight nor is it sarcasm – the mood and descriptions in ASRS are finely crafted, and where the character set and pace in FSIAB was about right for a Tarantino-styled Sam Spade noir takeoff (which it was), this has all the breadth and slower pace of Faulkner. There’s cousins, wives of cousins, lovers of wives of cousins, cops, convict brothers-of-cops/nephew of someone else, young, old, older….everything but a jimson-weed slobbering mute. And dogs. And they are all presented in an unrelentingly unforgiving lack of flattery. These are People of Walmart: rotten gums, overweight, unclean, beer-swilling, rampantly crazy or drug-crazed. Their unifying characteristic is crystal meth and the book could be called a Tweaker Procedural — lots of detail on smoking meth, some on production, logistics, etc. McBride opens with a beautiful presentation of the country life, in all its down-home, poverty-wretched glory and builds tension nicely. We get into the mind of the chief protag and quickly stumble across the catalyst of one of the main story lines, and we are off.