March 09, 2017
(++++) DEATH, DOOM, AND OTHER DELIGHTS
The Wrong Dead Guy. By Richard Kadrey. Harper Voyager. $24.99.
There is only one Richard Kadrey, and all things considered, that is probably a good thing. It could destabilize the universe if there were more than one creator of absurdly outré, laugh-out-loud magical ridiculousness that is decidedly not for kids and probably not for most adults who would pass as normal if the light is right. Actually, Kadrey is doing a pretty good job of destabilizing it on his own. It’s not exactly our universe, but it’s close enough so we should be grateful that…well, grateful that it’s not exactly our universe.
Kadrey writes picaresque “caper” novels with noir overflowing, a scriptwriter’s sense of pacing through dialogue, and perfectly poised descriptive passages that alone are worth the price of admission: “If money wanted to take a few weeks off, kick back, and catch some rays, it would do it in Carrwood, a pretty little private community in the verdant hills north of Los Angeles. Carrwood had more security than the Kremlin. Invading rats and squirrels found inside the gates weren’t poisoned, but trapped, packaged, and shipped to a small, but well-staffed rodent retirement community outside Palms [sic] Springs. To say that Carrwood was affluent was like saying the sinking of the Titanic was a bit of a whoopsie.” Occasional typos aside, Kadrey parades a full panoply of carefully crafted whoopsies in his magic-infused thriller-plus-cops-and-robbers adventures that are sufficiently indescribable so that it would help to have a few new adjectives available. In their absence, “Kadreyish” probably covers them all.
Consider: The Wrong Dead Guy is Kadrey’s second book about a magic thief called Coop. No, he is not magic – in fact, he is immune to magic, which is kind of a superpower, since what he does is steal magic, or magical objects. This is good, except when his immunity does not quite work or except when he has to use it in the service of the government Department of Peculiar Science, where he is employed because if he refuses to be employed there, he will be sent back to prison, which he was sent to in the first place because of the machinations of Morty, with whom he is now working. Oh, Coop also has a girlfriend, Giselle, who broke up with him, broke his heart, and now works with him at DOPS, and they are back together, and everything is sweetness and light, which in a Kadrey book means you just know everything is going to hop a handbasket and head straight to you-know-where.
Where it all goes in The Wrong Dead Guy is to a rundown museum that happens to possess the mummy of an Egyptian wizard named Harkhuf; DOPS wants the mummy for its own purposes. Coop and team head off to steal it in “a police van courtesy of the DOPS. Not that it was a real LAPD vehicle. It was Coop’s understanding that the DOPS had 3-D printed it. It was also his understanding that they could also print human organs, five-lens spider-friendly glasses, robot parts, and – for office picnics – geometrically perfect s’mores.” The heist goes fine, but unfortunately Harkhuf is not quite dead and has interests of his own, chief among them the revival of his girlfriend, Shemetet, so the two of them can take over the world and all like that there. Coop, like Kadrey’s better-known protagonist Sandman Slim, has a tendency to be tasked with world-saving and a tendency to object to being so tasked. In order to accomplish the task this time, he also has to deal with a dead but revived professor who is now half cat and half octopus and who is on his side, and a dead but revived nasty piece of work named Nelson who works at DOPS as a mook (essentially a zombie with a day job) and has plans of his own, which, when they go awry, do so in rather sinister ways: “It wasn’t so much having to spend the rest of the night cleaning bits of Albertson out of the shredder and light fixtures that bothered him; it was that now he couldn’t murder anyone himself. The manual was very clear on that point. No department below field operations was allowed more than one shredding, decapitation, immolation, or consumption of an employee by a hostile entity – human, animal, or cyborg – per quarter.”
Throw in some wealthy wacko wannabe environmentalists, some DOPS Auditors who have a tendency to get inside the brains of people they examine, settings such as the used-car dealership to end all used-car dealerships and the Hollywood Golden Bungalows (“a hangout for the endless waves of starry-eyed musicians that washed up on L.A.’s shores like so many dead whales”), a “Hang in there, baby” motivational Post-it featuring a drawing of “a dragon in an evening gown eating what appeared to be a washing machine full of bowling shoes,” and a hyper-conservative TV news operation that “seems to have been created by Lex Luthor for Mad Max villains and Vlad the Impalers who want to return to the gold standard, replace preschool with toddler coal mining, and balance the budget through Bigfoot hunts and free-market organ harvesting,” and you have a small idea of what Kadrey is getting at.
Oh, and don’t forget the transformed elephant, or rather what is transformed into the elephant. “Why can’t I do business with normal thieves who want to steal things and not have everybody know who did it?” laments Coop at one point, then adding, “Of course, normal thieves don’t rush across town so they can stake out a trust-fund hit squad with their stolen elephant.” And this is what passes for introspection in The Wrong Dead Guy. But really, none of this is Coop’s fault – he just happened to wander into a Richard Kadrey novel, or rather two of them if you include The Everything Box, in which Coop first appeared and first saved the world. You will be happy to hear that he saves it again this time. Apparently. And apparently this is a good thing, although it is a touch sad to realize that with Harkhuf apparently being really dead and gone this time, there will be no one else available to say, “I promise you eternal torment if you do not deliver to me a chocolate brownie.” At least until Kadrey’s next book.