★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Hot damn, that was fun!
I don’t mean ‘fun’ in the hanging with the bestie sense, eating dinner while we dish over the latest at work. No, I mean ‘fun’ in the Hollywood blockbuster, Six Flags roller coaster kind of meaning. I started this on the exercise bike, and kept my nose in the book until I finished. The last book that did that to me was… well, it was Night Fall, only that was more ‘edge-of-my-seat, nail-biting’ kind of engaged. But neither of the recent Connelly ‘thrillers’ had me riveted, so there you go. Make no mistake, this is bloodier and more ‘hands-on’ in violence than prior Faust books. One of the many reasons I prefer books over visual media.
It begins as Faust regains consciousness on a prison bus with his last memories of a detention cell after arrest. It’s a great device; it allows a few minutes of orientation for the reader as Faust tries to reconcile his last memories from book four, A Plain Dealing Villain, to now. Aside from that, there is little backstory, presuming the reader knows Faust, people who are important to him and general events. I appreciate that in a multi-book series; it’s tiresome as a reader to have the author re-explain everybody for those who are starting at the current book (grumbling about catering to mass-market ensues). Although Faust is terribly out of his element in this book, away from both his friends and his city, so those jumping in should be able to catch up.
Characterization is one of the enjoyable aspects of this series. In the first scene, we meet the man with the Smile, “a man built of shadow and fog, a living negative scratched onto the film of the world,” a perfect, inscrutable and ominous antagonist. Faust does less soul-searching here about morality, appropriately accepting who he is and is becoming. There’s a wide variety of bit characters in the jail setting. Perhaps some are stereotypical, but we gain more insight as Faust comes to know them better–just like real life. I’ve had trouble at other points with Caitlin’s general niceness, but she’s all passion here, including a passion for violence. It’s actually quite fun, in an ass-kicking kind of way.
Tone again shines, with Schaefer walking the delicate balance between the awfulness of Faust’s situation and trademark humor/cynicism. Faust’s voice remains so dry, it snaps and crackles like dry ice. At one point he explains events in book four by saying, “we did our best. We didn’t figure he had a warehouse filled with living mummies in crates. In retrospect, probably should have seen that coming.” As he walks in the prison yard, he notes, “The set-up wasn’t too shabby…I could imagine I was on a college campus, if it weren’t for the fences, the gun towers, and the razor wire.”
As a female reader, I have to appreciate a couple of choice incidents. One, is that Faust has no trouble owning up to being ‘a damsel in distress’ to his quite powerful girlfriend, Caitlin. Two, there’s some leftover emotional business from book four with his friend, Pixie. It was resolved completely appropriately, without Faust being a condescending jerk.
Plotting might be the most debated aspect of the book. Certainly much about the prison plot might have seemed Hollywood stereotypical, except–and this is a big one–it was interesting. Plot is balanced between the human threat of the prison and the magical threat of the mysterious Smile. I know Schaefer is creating an overarching plot for the series but in this book, the meta is left dangling. Everything else feels resolved reasonably well, however, so take that for what you will. No cliff-hangers–it’s like when the aforementioned bestie tells you a story that basically boils down to a jerk manager being a jerk. Why? Who really knows? Sometimes you just have to figure out how to play the hand, right?
In short, loads of fun, and I had to restrain myself from immediately going on to the next book. I did download it, however, for inspiration to get back to the gym.