The Blue Blazes, by Chuck Wendig

Series: Mookie Pearl, #1 | Publisher: Angry Robot | Publication date: May 28th 2013 | This edition: eARC | My rating: 5/5

 

Meet Mookie Pearl.

Criminal underworld? He runs in it.

Supernatural underworld? He hunts in it.

Nothing stops Mookie when he’s on the job.

But when his daughter takes up arms and opposes him, something’s gotta give…

The Blue Blazes is the first novel in a new series from the author of the Miriam Black books, and from the very first page it makes an impact with its gritty third-person narrator style – I could hear that narrator’s ‘voice’ practically growling out of every page. (That narrator’s voice sounded a hell of a lot like Mickey Rourke as Marv in Sin City, but that could either just be me or it could be inevitable. Read it and see for yourself.)

This is urban fantasy, horror and gangster noir all rolled into one tight, fast-paced drug trip of a story – and the drug trip part is literal a lot of the time. New York City is sitting on top of an open gateway to Hell, and monsters aren’t the only exports. The ‘Blue Blazes’ of the book’s title refers to a mineral, mined from the rock of the Great Below, that allows those who use it to see the true nature of Hell’s denizens through whatever illusions they use to appear human. In the time since Hell broke loose, this mineral has become a new drug of choice, particularly among New York’s criminal organization – but there have been rumours of other kinds of drug. Different-coloured minerals, that are said to have even crazier effects – even one that can help the user to fend off death itself.

Mookie Pearl, a hitter for the Organization, is tasked to find this nearly mythical substance, called Caput Mortuum or Death’s Head, to keep the Boss of the organization from dying of cancer. Of course there are complications – there’s a coup in the works once news of the Boss’s illness gets out, and at the heart of it all is Mookie’s own daughter, Nora.

Nora is, to me, the primary example of that Miriam Black influence, though I’ll stress that she’s definitely her own character here. Family affairs never run smoothly when your dad’s a Mob hitman, and Nora is a perfect(ly twisted) example of daddy’s little girl, neglected and longing for attention … Let’s just say that this doesn’t go well for either Nora or Mookie before the end. In a credit to Wendig for how well he portrays this dysfunctional little family unit, I found myself hooked on their relationship and biting my nails by the end of the story, eager to find out what becomes of them.

The black-as-hell noir narrative style used in this book is reminiscent of Wendig’s previous work, but thankfully doesn’t get old or tiresome here – as a theme or a storytelling tool it fits the story in question perfectly, and Wendig is, by now, clearly good at this kind of thing. In fact, there’s an interesting maturity to this novel, and the characters featured, that in hindsight was somewhat missing from what I’ve read of his work previously. The Miriam Black stories are undeniably, relentlessly ‘adult’, and even blacker in tone than this novel, but with that said The Blue Blazes feels like Miriam’s older, wiser cousin. That same fearless, ‘anything goes’ mentality is clearly present, but the end result, the book’s finale, felt more satisfying by the time I got to it than reading Miriam’s stories does (or did – to be fair that series is only two books old).

I think the main difference between those two ‘worlds’ is how much more heart there is to this one. Miriam Black isn’t entirely coldblooded, despite how horrific her life has been, but here with Mookie and Nora (and let’s not forget Skelly, whom I love, by the way) there’s more of a question hanging over what choices they will make and what will happen to them – which tells me all by itself that there’s more hope for them to change their path. To cut a long story short, I am utterly sold on this story. I read an eARC version of this book through NetGalley, so while there were less-than-polished aspects to it, I definitely enjoyed it, and will definitely be buying the book proper when it comes out next month. Well done, Chuck.

 

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