Tuesday, December 20, 2011

That Difficult Second Book...

Second in a series, anyway. Recently I read the second books in both the Charlie Hardie and Moses McGuire series, so I thought I'd lump them together and see what kind of utterly contrived similarities and contrasts I could come up with.

Out There Bad  -  Josh Stallings

Moses McGuire, no question, is a great hardboiled character. In the first book - Beautiful Naked and Dead - Moses is as hard-ass as your Nan, but he's got a streak of kindness, humanity, weakness for strippers, call it what you will, that won't let him wallow in ordinary trouble. Oh no, he has to fall into trouble as deep as an Anthony Neil Smith snowdrift. How could Mr Stallings possibly top an improbably good hardboiled novel with such a subtly complex character? Easy. Everything times two. Twice the trouble, twice the heartache, twice the punishment. The ante is upped and upped again as Moses' sense of justice leads him into a Russian bearpit in Mexico, and you know he's not coming out without some scars: physical, mental, and emotional. We're not taken further into the character, but the character is taken further down the road to hell, just to see if he stand the heat. I wouldn't personally say this is better than the first book (though some certainly have). But I loved the first book, and this is just as good.


Hell and Gone  -  Duane Swierczynski

No less badass, though less willing to dive in on behalf of others, is Charlie Hardie. At the start of the series (Fun & Games) he is a more complex character, having already gone through a lot of heartache. The first book is a tribute, homage or rip-off of 80s action movies, which it mimics and references constantly, making an enormously enjoyable read with enough character to keep it interesting. This book is rather different, however. Less action oriented, instead we start with our impossible-to-keep-down hero in bad physical shape. Rather than keep in the same vein as the Fun & Games, Swierczynski bravely digs in a different direction - deep into the pains and mental battles of the protagonist. Does it succeed? Hell yes. Instead of the Die Hard era Bruce Willis against-all-odds hero, we see a man struggling against impossible odds both externally and internally. Less roller coaster (though this is relative - it still has enough action for any hardboiled junkie) and more introspective, but more interesting for it, this sets up the third book in the promised trilogy nicely. We've seen all this character can be and do on two fronts now, and I can't wait for the third.

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