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).
To achieve this rapid immersion, the author uses third-person in classic epic fantasy style, with a lot of narration and direct description. This is a fell tale being told in the darkened greatroom of an ancient mansion, not a light story being recounted over coffee at a sunny coffee shop. The description is heavy in the beginning, where the mood is set. It’s a lot of mood and I can see the rationale – to pull off the plot and supernatural element, you need to have a setting suitably dark, misty, and full of portent. Upside — the descriptions are woven into the action, the story always moves forward. Along with a tensely-constructed challenge for the MC, we get some strange characters with otherworldly abilities and some nicely contained magic. No arbitrary Harry Potter stuff, nothing indiscriminate. Everything counts.
By the end of chapter 3, the heavy lifting is done, the train is out of the station* and gaining speed. Frohock gently presses the accelerator through the next section, and things get seriously weird as the caper is pulled off, to great cost to the main character…no Mary Sues here, there is a cost to every gambit and these characters do pay. The story closes with a denounment which is the setup for the next installment of Los Nefilim, and the author foreshadows challenges to come. I’m looking forward to the next story as we’ve got a ton of worldbuilding out of the way in this story.
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 🙂
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.
I read a review that said this was a ‘great’ book. Hellfire, Charlie Sheen liked it! (I discovered that after the fact.) I read it. I have read more sensationalist, exploitative works. I am no literary virgin. But this was on the edge of what I’d call entertaining, in a ‘secret sin’ sort of way.
Frank Sinatra in a Blender is an engaging read, and it certainly has character. It also has very little shame or self-consciousness. In fact, if books had a human expression, this would be a brash, loud, tout from a bawdy house in 19th century Barbary Coast San Francisco, capering in a torn frock coat and showing nicotine-stained teeth. Perhaps even opium stained teeth. It is entertaining but being a torrid, roaring send-up of the pulp/noir detective genre, it is a bit limited in scope, as is its target. No big deal there. We’re not reading this for great insights into character development, social commentary or gender roles. Far from it. The characters are men, strippers, more men, a dancer, a pretty receptionist (natch) who immediately falls for the protag, who is battered, bloodstained, and, of course, reeking of vodka at the time. What 21-year-old blonde babe could resist? You get the idea. Not for the Birkenstock crowd, this. I mean, *not at all.* It is pulp fiction, and it revels in the violence, gore and testosterone-oriented bravado of the genre.
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.
There are a number of parallel threads in the book, but by keeping the focus on characters and actions, McBride keeps it together. There are some nicely apocalyptic scenes with the kind of uncomfortable, intimate dooms (reminiscent of Garp at times) that are not for the squeamish, but it is not the relish of gore that FSIAB was at times. In fact plethora of deaths are handled with a light hand….if anything, a bit too light. If I can fault McBride for anything, it was the lack of impact in a couple of scenes where characters died. Also, the threads don’t end in one all-encompassing orgy of doom and violence, they just end up dead, a la Game of Thrones (for those who have READ that, you know what I mean.) . Some of the characters get their comeuppance as we go along, which is OK, I would have liked a little more of their own shock & awe illuminated to the reader.