Friday, February 12, 2010

review: Dead Men's Boots

cover of the US version of Mike Carey's novel Dead Men's BootsJust finished Dead Men's Boots, which is the third book in Mike Carey's Felix Castor series, which is turning out to be an upstanding addition to the supernatural noir thriller trend. I was a little dubious about the first book, The Devil You Know -- although I'd enjoyed most of Carey's run of Hellblazer, upon discovering that he'd written a novel set in London about a hard-boiled blue-collar magician-for-hire who hailed from Liverpool, wore a trenchcoat, chain smoked, had a tragic history of getting his friends well and truly fucked, was so rakish that he still got along well with The Ladies despite maybe not laundering his clothes ever, and was not supposed to be John Constantine, well. Like I said, dubious.

It turned out that I enjoy portrayals of John Constantine so much (he's my inappropriate comic book boyfriend) that I don't mind when he's not called John Constantine. Castor is everything you want in an antihero -- cocky and fallible, the sort of too-clever-for-his-own-good that gets him both into trouble and out of it again. And Carey's non-Hellblazer-related, alternate-reality setting of a modern world in which the undead are widely rising and exorcists are part of the workforce struck me as deliciously uncomfortable and unpleasant. (I think that I like supernatural noir so much because it's so unpleasant. It's a sort of escapism in which you get to set down the book and think, "Well, sure my life sucks, but I haven't had any extensive bodily damage, death threats, or demon uprisings to cope with today. Win!")

I found the first two books (with Vicious Circle following The Devil You Know) fun but a bit clumsy, as though Carey hadn't quite gained his novel-legs yet. Dead Men's Boots is better (oh I didn't mean for this to be a pun) executed. The plotline has more frays but a tighter wind -- it kept me guessing but drew everything in neatly (if messily, entrails-wise) at the end. The sex & violence are more purposeful -- sleaze and shock value are important elements in noir, but I didn't find those elements to be exploitive in Dead Men's Boots. (That is, the violence is graphic but not lovingly detailed, and I think Castor, as the first-person narrator, has grown up a bit since the first book and become more self-aware about sex & sexuality. Importantly for sometimes-angry-feminist-me, Carey portrays the male and female rapes that occur as violent acts rather than sexual ones.) And the characters in the book, both men and women, are more sympathetic and whole. The language in Dead Men's Boots is well-wrought, intelligent, extensively British (kudos to the US publisher for not noticeably Americanizing Castor's vocabulary), and dense with pop culture references both modern and classic, literary and musical, dorky and mainstream. It's campy and silly, but it does what it sets out to do -- entertain, darkly -- very well.

What I'm really hoping is that someone turns Dead Men's Boots into a film or premium cable series -- as dark, sexy, funny, and thrilling as it is, it seems made for motion picture. With the right person working the musical score (Castor's method of doing magic constitutes playing a tin whistle), a creature/effects department with the requisite amount of latex and unwillingness to pull punches, and a lead actor who is in no way Keanu Reeves, it could be glorious.

If you're an unsqueamish fan of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books or Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series but think you'd appreciate something a little bit chewier in the supernatural noir genre, you should pick up something from the Felix Castor series. Start at the beginning for maximum backstory or dive right into the third book -- Carey catches you up quick. Or try a volume of Hellblazer -- Original Sins is the beginning of the series, but my favorite bits are the ones written by Garth Ennis, starting with Dangerous Habits.


TheLadysRevenge said...

I've heard of the Felix Castor books but have yet to check them out. Think I may need to.

Adam P. Knave said...

I've only gotten the first Castor book, I need to do the rest. I wasn't a huge fan of Carey's Constantine but it was still good stuff.


Since I own the domain...

As of now:

forward to your email addy. Enjoy.

the grammar monkey said...

They're really much better than most of the other mass market supernatural noir thingies! Much more hard-boiled. And less unintentionally offensive. And a little smarter.

And hooray for you owning! I am not positive in what capacity I will use, but I will surely put it to good use.

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