Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski
If you can get past the unlikely contrivances that set up the story, you'll be sucked into a character-driven thrill ride that will have you preordering the sequel as soon as you turn the last page.
FUN AND GAMES balances the quirky story with characters that seem real--paging Lindsay Lohan for the role of Lane--and sympathetic. The mystery about what sent Charlie fleeing from Philadelphia interests us but so does the question of who wants Lane dead and why.
A lot of the fun of the story--at least for people who actually live in Los Angeles--is the sense of authenticity. The plot plays out like a mash-up of John Ridley's EVERYBODY SMOKES IN HELL and Elmore Leonard's GET SHORTY. The characters have history and context and their lives are complicated. Sometimes this is tragic--as with Charlie--and sometimes it's hilarious, with the suburban dad who calls himself FACTBOY having to seclude himself in public bathrooms to stay in contact with his client--while his vacationing wife and children get antsy.
The client is an intriguing character herself. We know absolutely nothing about her but it's fascinating to watch her unravel as she has to invent more and more narratives to cover the scenarios that unfold when her plan goes FUBAR. We're not the only one horrified by her total lack of compassion--even second in command can't believe she's so cold-blooded.
Both Lane and Charlie are terrifically damaged people. The writer gives us their internal dialogue so that we are invested in their survival. It's funny that most of Lane's survival skills were learned while making various cheap action movies.
Charlie is almost ridiculously resilient but at the end, he's still standing. We don't know exactly what's going to happen to him when he wakes up from the sedative the EMT administers at the end, but since we know that there are two more books in the series, we can only assume he survives and thrives in some way.
Lane and Charlie have a good run of it, and the writer makes their survival pretty plausible just as he makes the bad guys' ability to track them seem pretty likely. It's a little too fortunate that Charlie has the skillset he does (and his backstory is actually kind of murky--the writer should have just made him an ex-cop instead of some sort of consultant whose role was violent but nebulous).
Charlie is a good man who lives with a terrible burden of guilt. He and Lane are a lot alike and he realizes it. When she confesses her own guilt (as she has to her secret boyfriend), he doesn't offer absolution but he can offer understanding.
The book contains some good action and the finale in the Hunter house is a particularly strong setpiece. The novel is steeped in noir tropes (and great quotes from movies ranging from COBRA to KISS KISS BANG BANG) and the twists of the plot do not disappoint.
Posted by Katherine Tomlinson at 10:37 AM