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Book Reviews

Spotlight on: Slide by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr

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Slide by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, Slide

When two authors with very distinctive styles collaborate, one's or the other's personality usually dominates. Or the resulting novel is such a mishmash that you can easily tell who wrote which section. Luckily, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr have somehow managed once again to avoid that with Slide, which contains one of the smoothest narrative noices ever put on paper.

Slide is the sequel to the authors' first collaboration, Bust (also published by Hard Case Crime). That first book was my pick for one of the best books of 2006, but this one doesn't quite live up to it.

Both Bruen and Starr are masters of darkness in their preferred settings — Bruen in Ireland, Starr in New York — and Slide jumps from the one setting to the other with ease. Max Fisher, former computer-company mogul, has changed careers: he is now The M.A.X., a "gangsta" crack dealer complete with his own "ho," Felicia (who turns out to be not as dumb as her massively augmented breasts would seem to imply).

Max's ex-secretary/ex-mistress Angela Petrakos (read Bust for the details of their history together) has gone back to Ireland (where she doesn't seem quite so "Irish" as she did in New York) and has hooked up with a lunatic named Slide (because he says "I'm gonna let it slide" to those who wrong him — and then doesn't!) who is planning a career as a famous serial killer. Only Slide is under the impression that he has kidnapped Angela.

Slide is extremely dark fun all the way. Bruen and Starr put their characters (who are hardly likeable, even on their best days) through wringer after wringer (a Bruen specialty) just for their and our amusement. And it is quite a ride. I've never seen (except maybe from these two) a novel with no characters the reader is intended to identify with — simply a cast of hateful losers who deserve everything they get. I can't wait to see what Bruen and Starr cook up for their reported third novel together.

But unfortunately, all this proves to be just so much decoration, there possibly to hide the fact that there's not a very interesting story taking place. Whether this is due to "sequelitis," "sophomore slump," or simply "second story in a trilogy syndrome" (see Back to the Future II and The Two Towers for further evidence of this phenomenon) is not for me to say. All I know is that Slide was much more difficult to finish than its predecessor — and, after finishing it, I could remember certain scenes (fans should watch out for cameos from two particular authors) or specific turns of phrase, but not much actual plot. It is as if the authors knew they had a cup of really weak coffee and tried to add enough cream and sugar for us to not notice there wasn't much else in the cup.

That said, Slide is probably still going to be unlike anything else you read this year. It is a very different kind of comic noir, and one that you'll likely want to revisit. Also, once again artist Richard B. Farrell (Bust, Lemons Never Lie, Robbie's Wife) has produced one of the more evocative book covers I've seen lately. This only adds to the effect of what is already a rollicking, fun ride, just one that may not linger in your memory.

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