Sunday, October 18, 2009

Review of The Big Wake Up

Private-eye novels usually either go one of two ways; gritty, dirt-under-the-nails realism, or more comic, pulpy fare. One can make that Mickey Spillane mixed the two types of stories, but, it’s not at all clear Spillane knew when he was being comical, and either way, the results of his efforts may be the best argument one can think of for not trying to mix the two types of stories. However, Mark Coggins’ latest August Riordan novel, The Big Wake Up (Bleak House, 2009) successfully mixes plot elements that would fit more comfortably between the battered pages of a comic or pulp magazine with the modern hard boiled PI story. The result is a fast paced, entertaining read.

The plot of The Big Wake Up is ridiculous. It involves rival factions from Argentina searching for the embalmed corpse of Evita Peron, which was, through a series of rather unbelievable occurrences, supposedly spirited away to the San Francisco Bay area and interred under a false name. Apparently, whoever possesses Evita’s corpse will wield unlimited power over the easily impressed proles of Argentina or something. Needless to say, August Riordan is brought in by one of the factions to find the corpse, under false pretenses, of course. He quickly realizes something is up when he is trying to get his client’s daughter in bed, and a gang of thugs burst into his apartment, led by a woman named Isis, who commands an army of identical looking black men and has a fetish for embalming people alive.

So, yes, The Big Wake Up, is ridiculous, but it’s a well done sort of ridiculous. Coggins is pretty skilled at taking the reader for a ride, and the book zips along like a Maserati down the Pacific Coast Highway. Despite the over-the-top nature of the tale, Coggins still keeps it grounded. Actions have consequences. People die, and Riordan doesn’t make it out emotionally unscathed. No doubt because the book is part of a series, Coggins makes an effort at verisimilitude and blends it well with the overall story. The result is a book that is satisfying on more than one level.

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