Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review Club: Fun and Games by Duane Swiercznyski

(This is the August 2011 entry for Barry Summy's Book Review Club. For the complete list, click the icon at the end of my review.)

Job I would not want: Person trying to classify a Duane Swiercznyski book.

Sure, “crime fiction” is a nice umbrella if you want to use it, but that doesn’t quite do justice to the types of books Swiercznyski writes. Okay, early books like “The Wheelman” are straight up crime-y things, but some of his more recent books—The Blonde, Expiration Date—are not. Put his newest hard-to-classify tale, Fun and Games, into the latter camp.

Charles Hardie makes his living an interesting way: he’s a professional house sitter. He’s also a former Philadelphia cop who is fleeing personal demons from the past. Only things he requires other than the paycheck are booze and old movies, preferably on DVD. His latest contract is the LA home of a musician who has been called away to Europe.

Lane Madden, B-movie actress and A-list druggie, is driving in the Hollywood hills. She, too, has demons in her past, as the tabloids are quite eager to exploit. Those headlights she sees following her? They’re getting closer. Thinking the driver will pass her, she stops (dumb move). She’s attacked, but escapes into the night.

Think these two stories tie in together? Natch. Hardie arrives at the musician’s home and the keys aren’t where they’re supposed to be. Long story short, he has to break in to said house only to be attacked by a woman who turns out to be Madden. She thinks Hardie’s one of Them. Notice the capitalization? “Them” are the Accident People, killers hired to off high profile celebrities and make the deaths look, well, accidental. Hardie doesn’t believe her, until some stuff hits the proverbial fan.

Job I would not want: People who clean up after bloody death scenes.

I’ve read enough Swiercznyski books now to know one of his patterns: many of his tales take place in a short timeframe. The Blonde, in book time, lasted about twelve hours, Severance Package even less. Fun and Games, if I had to count up the hours, maybe clocks in about a day, give or take. The brilliance of this technique—where a reader is halfway through a book realizing only then that only a few hours have passed for the characters—is the distillation of the action down to a science. Jumping in and out of characters’ POVs, Swiercznyski is able to describe the action with balletic grace, giving nuances to violence reserved only for slo-mo shots in action films. Speaking of action films, there’s a great moment when Madden, faced with her own death a few times, relies on all the training she did for her B-movies. Even as she’s kicking ass, she’s marveling (and thanking) all her hours of training.

I’m usually a slower reader, but reading a Swiercznyski breaks the curve. Fun and Games travels at such a high rate of speed that I was devouring this book in chunks, not chapters. And the pop culture references are a scream. It’s one of Swiercznyski’s trademark prose stylings to reference just about anything at a given point. Since he and I are roughly the same age, he knows what I know, and I love it.

Another fun aspect of Fun and Games was the setting. Swiercznyski’s a Philly guy, the City of Brotherly Love plays a vital role in his books. Fun and Games is a California novel. In the afterward, you learn the thing Swiercznyski experienced that triggered the germ of this story. I’ve only visited California a couple of times, but I seriously got the vibe from this book. Heck, now I want to visit again.

The Accident People. Now, this concept is scary, but, in Swiercznyski’s hands, they’re a little bit funny, too. Don’t get me wrong. They kill people, staging the deaths as accidents. But you get enough background here to want to know more about these guys. Best thing about the book: the cliffhanger ending. You see, Fun and Games is the first of a trilogy of Charlie Hardie stories. Usually, Swiercznyski’s characters are so beat to hell by the end of the book that any thought of a continuing series is moot. Well, Hardie gets his ass handed to him again and again, but he keeps getting up. Yeah, the book ends on a cliffhanger, but guess what? You get chapter one of Hell and Gone, the next book, as a bonus. (Checking the calendar) How long until October?

Classifying a Swiercznyski book: pulp fiction, pure and simple, just like they used to write back in the day. Guy and gal get into a bad situation and have to fight their way out of it. Are they gonna make it? Read and find out.

Job I do want: Reader of anything Duane Swiercznyski writes.

P.S. Once you are done reading, head on over to Do Some Damage's book club. We're chatting about Fun and Games this month.

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pattinase (abbott) said...

Terrific review, Scott.

Stacy said...

That's not a genre I normally read, but it sounds great.

Barrie said...

Sounds really, really interesting! Thanks for reviewing and for doing such a detailed job, too!