Have you ever walked into a party and seen someone just command everyone’s attention? Maybe they’re telling a joke, a captivating story or performing some ridiculous feat, you’re not sure. You lean over and ask someone what’s going on. They either shush you or they calmly say, “Oh, that’s just <insert name here>, he’s/she’s awesome.” That’s Chuck Wendig.
Chuck is that guy that everyone is talking about that somehow you don’t know. He’s been building his reputation over the years with some critically acclaimed work but unfortunately, I’ve had my blinders on preferring to narrow my reading material to a select few genres and authors. It wasn’t until this year that I’ve really started to broaden my horizons and Chuck Wendig is one of my latest discoveries.
I first stumbled across Chuck when I was prepping for an interview with Adam Christopher. I wanted to avoid asking Adam anything that he’d already been asked a thousand times (a difficult task) when I came across an interview he did with the website, Terrible Minds. Terrible Minds is a blog created by Mr. Wendig where he interviews other authors and muses about anything that crosses his mind. Not only did I become a fan, I saw that he was also an author. Not only is he an author but an author that had a book scheduled to be released by Angry Robot – a publisher that I’ve become enthralled with over the past few months. When I saw that the ARC (advanced reader copy) became available, I snagged it as quickly as possible.
The Blue Blazes is an urban fantasy tale that mixes the criminal underworld with the spiritual underworld. When combined, it produces a hard hitting and brutal exercise in awesome. Mookie Pearl works for The Organization, a gang that holds great power and influence over the majority of the organized crime within New York City. When its leader becomes stricken with terminal cancer, Mookie is sent to retrieve a cure that may or may not even exist. The prospect of traveling within the local underworld is not something Mookie is looking forward to but seeing as his loyalty is unwavering, he sees no other option.
In mixing the surface dwellers with the underground, the underground have an advantage in assuming a physical appearance akin to ours. The only way to see them for who they really are is to smear a clay like substance often dubbed, “Peacock Powder” on each of their temples (think Roddy Piper’s shades in They Live!). As the novel progresses, Mookie hears of another drug similar to the blue called “The Red”, in which an acquaintance explains:
“..that shit’s like bath salts had a baby with steroids or something, man. Makes you go crazy. He went nuts. Tore up his mother’s house. Ate her dog.”
The underworld is filled with these select pigmentations that can alter one’s perception, strength or even cure diseases. The one Mookie is after is labeled Death’s Head, or sometimes known as “The Purple”. Long considered to be an urban legend, Death’s Head is believed to cure the incurable and bring those back to life that had passed on.
Not only does Mookie have a hell of a challenge ahead of him (mind the pun) but he also has to deal with his rebellious daughter, Nora. Nora was more than a little tired of living in her father’s shadow and playing a background character to his duties with the mob. So she chose to hit him where it hurts, his father figure boss. Despite his frustration following her actions, his love for her never falls to the wayside. Given his career choice, what option did he have? In order to function like the hard-ass that he was, he had to push his family to the back burner.
“Mookie’s not a man given over to much guilt. In his line of work, guilt is a boat anchor around the ankle, a too-full colostomy bag hanging from the hip. It’s a burden. A does-nothing-for-you-but-slow-your-ass-down burden. Guilt will make you hesitate. Shame makes you weak. And Mookie’s tough. Tough like an anvil.”
Chuck’s got some excellent writing chops. Like the above, there are more than a few lines that had me laughing out loud. Aside from both the action and intensity that Chuck writes with, he isn’t above throwing in some abrasive comedy to boot.
“He wants to know who did this. So he can break a baseball bat off in their bowels”
“..And it’s then and there that Mookie decides he’s going to steal a fucking city bus and hit the Holland Tunnel and find this guy’s house and drive the bus over his head”.
I was seriously hooked on this. The Blue Blazes feels like it should exist in the same realm as Frank Miller’s Sin City, both have lovable oafs in Mookie Pearl and Marv respectively and a similar level of extremely stylized violence. Wendig crafted a world here that could produce an endless number of stories. Possibly a prequel or spin-off in regards to the brief introductions for each chapter from an early underworld explorer attempting to map out its environment.
It should be worth noting that Angry Robot is kicking out some fantastic cover art and The Blue Blazes is no exception. Working with Joey Hi-Fi, the same artist as his previous novels, Chuck has some great eye-grabbing artwork to grace the cover. The smaller shot I have at the top of this review seriously does not do it justice. Head over to Terrible Minds to see a hi-res shot.
I’ll be checking out some more Wendig going forward. His Miriam Black series has received a great deal of praise and I doubt it’ll be long before I catch up.