Monday, 23 January 2017

Half-Resurrection Blues

(January 2017)

Everyone wants coffee except Dr. Tijou, who prefers tea.

I'm struggling to explain why I found this line is so funny, but it provided my first book driven LOL of 2017: a good three or four minutes of guffawing about tea. I am, however, going to give an explanation a bash, because if nothing else it's going to be a good way of working through exactly why I enjoyed this book so much.

Dr Tijou is a surgeon. She has been called over by a friend of a friend to work on Carlos Delacruz, a half-undead agent for the New York Council of the Dead, who has been stabbed, leaving him pinioned to the furniture in his apartment. He ends up like this while investigating into a local infestation of ngks, nasty little critters whose appearances have acted as harbingers for some of the worst epidemics in history, and whose presence in Brooklyn may or may not be related to Carlos realising for the first time that he is not the only inbetweener in the world, or even in the city. Thereafter: fights and phantoms, sex and sorcery.

So urban fantasy then, which is something I'll happily dabble in every once in a while but I generally need to take in small doses, so it was slightly unfair to read Half-Resurrection Blues straight after an example of the genre that didn't really work for me.  It was always going to face a bit of an uphill struggle, but it climbed with ease. The word, I believe, is vivid. Despite a setting populated by half-shades and indistinct greyness, Carlos and his Brooklyn exist with and solidity and verve that are nigh-on impossible not to get hooked by. The plot is fairly formulaic, but does what it has to do to enable everything about the rest of the book to (ironically) come to life, while being pushed by a narrative voice that manages to be both vital and genuine at the same time. Carlos is clearly his own man, and not just some construct of an author reaching for 'edgy' and missing.

And this, I think is where most of that humour comes from (because it in places very, very funny): the potential for bathos—that jarring drop from the fantastic to the mundane—is woven into the book at a conceptual level and is expertly mined. It never feels forced or exploited, but runs with a deadpan ease that makes it not only funny, but almost necessary and inevitable that a relatively minor supporting character would want tea in the middle of a triage-cum-exorcism, because why wouldn't they?

As for quibbles, the pacing is a touch binary. Flashes of blood-churning action followed by weeks of a guy lying on his couch. Variety is good and necessary, but it's a bit all or nothing in that respect. The final act, for example, spends several chapters building to the climactic battle with the big boss which then finishes in a trice.

More significantly, Carlos's relationship with Sasha (his love interest, for want of a much, much better phrase) is a little too stalkerish for comfort. While this is acknowledged in the text—Carlos certainly doesn't get away with it scot free—it still feels slightly off, as he also ends up being rewarded for it, in a certain fashion. I think this is at least partly down to the first-person perspective; Carlos is obviously going to focus on his viewpoint and there aren't any of the usual unreliable narrator cues that might prompt us to question what he tells us more thoroughly. Because his voice is so vividly created, his pursuit (and it is a pursuit) of Sasha is almost necessarily going to be framed as romantic when it's actually pretty fucking creepy. While in some ways Older's a victim of his own success—a less engaging narrator would find it harder to drown out other concerns—this situation is down to deliberate authorial decisions, with foreseeable outcomes. This is a debut novel though, so without dismissing the misssteps too lightly, the fact that there are so few is impressive in itself. Half-Ressurection Blues is the first of a trilogy, the last instalment of which has just been released. While I'm in no rush to dive back into urban fantasy, if the next time is in the company of Mr Delacruz and his pals then I'll definitely have no complaints.

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