Monday, July 18, 2011

Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski

More a thriller on speed than a noir tale. Breathless action that jumps off the page likeFun and Games the scenes left on the cutting room floor after “Sin City” was edited.  The premise stretches belief, the dialog is disjointed and at times forced and over the top, the plot slow to develop and the character development happens over the course of the novel if at all. But the pace, ahh, the pace. It never lets up as we jump from one scene to another like flash backs after a bad drunk. The pace and the nonstop darkly comic book violence has the characters leaping from frying pan to fire and back again so often and so fast you’ll forget which they are in this time.

This is the first in a trilogy, the sequel Hell & Gone due out on Halloween and the final book in the Hardie Trilogy sometime next spring. The hero of the story is Charlie Hardie who starts off a likeable looser with a touch of hardboiled patter. He is a house sitter whose only ambition is to get to the next job, settle down with a bottle of booze and some old movies and drift off into a haze. A tragic past is hinted at as is a one time association with the Philadelphia Police. In the plane flying to L.A. for his next gig he is overly protective of a carry on bag which we are led to believe holds the only items Hardie treasures in the world. We never do learn what’s in the bag and this among other loose ends made the book unsatisfying to me.

Mean while, on a dark, early morning run through the Hollywood Hills we meet Lane Madden an almost- starlet who is nakedly modeled on Lindsay Lohan in that she has just had a melt down caused by her excessive actions following almost-success. She is being pursued down a windy road by a car that is seemingly trying to kill her. She confronts the driver at a lighted intersection and he seems nothing more than a fan. But she is soon the victim of a staged accident on the 101 and fleeing for her life through the sage brush and canyons below the Hollywood sign.

Flash back to Hardie who arrives at the clients house only to find the keys aren’t in the mail box, so he climbs over the roof, encounters a nude sunbather in the neighbors yard, drops down to the deck hanging precariously over the steep hill side and breaks into the clients house, locates and disarms the alarm and soon is impaled with a mic stand by Lane Madden who is hiding out from “them”. “Them” is slowly revealed to be “The Accident People” an international group of assassins that kills people off by setting up accidents….

From there the action never really stops as Hardie is revealed to have been a cop in Philly, well, sort of. More of a consultant really and after some tragic happening, he has hit the lam and the booze. It’s another third of the book before specifics of the tragedy are revealed, and this is another unsatisfactory point for me. Any empathy I could develop for Hardie was so long delayed that instead of empathizing I was just relieved that it was FINALLY out in the open. As Hardie and Lane slowly start coming clean with each other many implausible plot devices – a hidden closet, secret tunnels, bad guys surviving miraculous falls, “The Accident Peoples” motives and employers, deadly poison gas that merely knocks out people with deviated septum's, cell phone jamming in an exclusive neighborhood that goes unnoticed and nudist assassins to mention just a few.

Admittedly, I like my crime fiction and even my thrillers a little more realistic, but then again, maybe I’m getting stodgy in my old age. I think the book would have worked marvelously as a Graphic Novel as the scenes seemed to play out like the aforementioned “Sin City” by Frank Miller; a series of darkly shot, over the top and overly violent bits and pieces with any fleshing out of the characters often left until the body bag is zipped shut. The pace did hold my interest though, and as Vince Keenan observed  on his review of the same novel,

 Duane Swierczynski’s impressive accomplishment with Fun & Games is to turn the entire damn book into a setpiece, an epic free-for-all in which you can scarcely catch your breath.”

I will read the second installment if for no other reason than to finally get the rest of the story on Hardie and to find out where the marvelous cliff hanger twist of an ending winds up.


Duane Swierczynski is the author of several crime thrillers, including Severance Package(St. Martin's Press), which has been optioned by Lionsgate films, Secret Dead Men, Swierczynski’s crime fiction debut, was published in 2005 . He also writes the X-Men spinoff Cable for Marvel Comics as well as IMMORTAL IRON FIST. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and children. Swierczynski has written six non-fiction books, including This Here’s A Stick-Up: The Big Bad Book Of American Bank Robbery (Alpha, 2002) and The Big Book O’ Beer (Quirk, 2004).

This Galley was provided by Mulholland Books for review purposes.


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