Saturday, August 6, 2011

Deadly Games in the Hollywood Hills


With a nod at the oft-quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stewart (who famously said that even though he didn’t know the precise definition of “pornography”, he knew it when he saw it), I’m not always sure what constitutes “pulp fiction”... but I think I know it when I see it. (Thanks for that go to Quentin Tarantino and his oh-so-helpfully-named cinematic masterpiece... not to mention, pretty much every other movie he’s had a hand in.)
Until recently, my exposure to the likes of anything pulp-y was confined to watching such Tarantino-esque films on the jumbo screens at the multiplex. (The sheer outrageousness and larger-than-life everything in a pulp movie is positively tailor-made for a place which proudly serves up jumbo buckets of glistening, artery-clogging puffs of corn and carry-on-suitcase-sized boxes of Junior Mints.)
What I’d never done, though, was to read anything in the genre... but, figuring that you never know what’s gonna float your boat until you try it (well, aside from something like Brussels sprouts, which I’m positive beyond a shadow of a doubt I can’t stand, despite the fact that they’ve never actually passed my lips), I was open to the idea.
So, when the description for crime writer Duane Swierczynski’s latest book, Fun & Games, came along--and intrigued me, with its mix of familiar-enough territory (noir-ish mystery) and the promise of a little extra kapow (over-the-top action scenes in a bizarre-o setting)--I decided to take the plunge.
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A little drive-by, for starters...
First off, a quick check that the key ingredients are all present and accounted for, in the very best pulp fashion. Hardboiled action hero? Check; Charlie Hardie is an ex-Philly-cop, as tough as old boots, who’s trying to escape a lot of bad memories by consuming copious amounts of booze. Beautiful woman-in-peril? Check; Lane Madden is a beautiful, famous young starlet, on the run from some very bad people. That brings us to... Bad Guys? Checkity-check-check. There are at least three extremely-evil guys (well, make that two guys-and-a-gal) who want nothing more than to see Lane dead. Finally, fantastic locale? Check, if the fabulous homes in the hills of Hollywood count.
Now, let’s put everyone in motion... 
Charlie Hardie has completely turned his back on his old life, following the brutal murders of his partner--and his partner’s wife and daughters--during a drug case gone tragically wrong. He currently makes a living as a house sitter, a job that lets him be a rolling stone, always on the move with gigs all over the country (and as far away from Philadelphia as he can get). It’s easy enough; he secures the property, makes it obvious the house isn’t vacant, then spends the rest of the time watching old movies and making his way through as much bourbon as possible. (No matter that the pay isn’t great, since he carries all his worldly belongings in a couple suitcases.) 
He flies into L.A., thinking this latest job doesn’t sound like much of a challenge: watch the house of a famous musician who’s off working on the score for another blockbuster movie. (The fact that it’s an “upside-down house”, with three of the floors buried underground, would seem to make things that much easier.) And, when he sees the huge screens and amazing sound system in the media room on arriving, he decides this job will be just about perfect.
There’s just one teensy little problem: after being in the house for only several minutes, he’s attacked (impaled, actually) by a terrified young squatter... who turns out to be a considerably-worse-for-the-wear Lane Madden, gorgeous A- and B-movie actress (whose exploits are fodder for all the tabloids), insisting that “They” are out to kill her.
Initially, Hardie--while sort of preoccupied trying to stop the vast quantities of blood from leaking out his chest--thinks he has just another drugged-up (and crazy-ass dangerous!) starlet on his hands. Who in his right mind would buy her story that a group of hit men have been trying to kill her all morning, and to make the death look like an accident? Gradually, though, he realizes there might be some awful truth to the wild tale Lane’s telling him... especially after the power is cut, the phones are jammed, and someone drives off in Hardie’s rental car. (And don't even ask about the poor delivery guy who shows up unexpectedly with Hardie's wayward suitcase.)
Once these so-called Accident People successfully break into the house, making all-too clear their intention of killing both Lane and Hardie, all bets are off; Hardie’s not about to let another innocent person get whacked when he’s around. (At the very least, he's willing to die to prevent it from ever happening again...)
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What I can’t tell you about Fun & Games are all the specific moments of terror... anticipating the hammer to drop, the boogieman to get in, and the blood to flow. The chases are thrilling; there’s a very strong you-are-there sensation when reading, and you feel and “see” everything on a visceral level. This one grabs you by the throat from the start, and doesn’t let go until the bitter end. It’s larger-than-life, as promised, full of scary-creepy, heart-pounding, adrenaline-fueled fun.
Swierczynski doesn’t just dish up some killer action, though; his Hardie is hardboiled-with-a-heart (a Bruce Willis character--smart-ass wisecracks included, thank goodness--if ever I’ve seen one), and Lane is sympathetic, too (in a suitably-spoiled, Lindsey Lohan way). As for the hit squad, well, they’re a nifty blend of all those really nasty baddies straight out of the better shoot-em-ups, and the fact that the leader of this particular group is a very smart and determined woman? Totally cool.
Fun & Games is the first in a trilogy featuring Charlie Hardie, and I’m kinda looking forward to seeing what other insanity Swierczynski has planned for him. Every once in awhile, you just need to let loose and go on a wild and crazy ride.   
Whatever else it is, let’s just say... this one’s definitely not Brussels sprouts. ;)

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4 out of 5 Mousies