65. Wolfman Confidential – Justin Robinson
Things are getting a lot darker in the City of Devils. It would stand to reason that any story involving more of the mobster and cop elements of the adventures of Nick Moss would be on the more serious side – even if those mobsters are a sidhe, the girl version of Krang from Ninja Turtles, and a germaphobe.
At first I was a little nervous about the amount of new characters that continued to pop up and have things resolved throughout the novel. That nerviness turned out to be unfounded by the end, thankfully, as the characters circled back around or their involvement in the main plot became clear. It’s so important in a series with a world as unusual and detailed as this one to not just mention some new person or location or thing solely for its own sake and Robinson manages to keep the newness and revealed relevance fun throughout. There are a lot of weird and wonderful set pieces with a ghost gang’s lair, goblins, a phantom and his young protégé, and – unexpectedly – people.
I have to say, though, my favorite scene involved the familiar monsters who hang out at Nick’s house every night trying to get him to let them turn him. Nick basically giving story-time to Sam, Mira, and Lurkimer made for a good moment of grounding in a very action packed story.
Ozma is waiting for Pere to tell her stories about her own version of the Night War.
25. Fifty Feet of Trouble – Justin Robinson
The continuing adventures of Nick Moss, private detective in the City of Devils , Fifty Feet of Trouble delivered on a number of levels; although I must report that I didn’t actually realize the significance of the title until the end and am somewhat embarrassed about it because it’s really perfect.
It was pretty easy to get distracted away from cataloging familiar situations and tropes in this one and I’m glad so much ground work was laid in City of Devils. It may be a surprise, but, I’m not as familiar as many readers might be with noir and classic hard-boiled detective stories. My mystery choices tend to be more Lansdale and Leonard than Hammett and I still found it really easy to see where the weirdo stuff, snappy dialogue, and I have to say- a lot more horrific elements this time (Damn those clowns right to hell!) of the mysteries I’m used to and the salty (pretty literally in this case) detective traditions stomp around with each other. Really though, damn those clowns. And they had their own church! That was effing terrifying. Robinson managed to broaden the world and give several City of Devils characters much more depth, including main meatstick Nick Moss, (and Serendipity got much more of a chance to glisten and shine with slime, which I didn’t know I was waiting for as a reader until after I finished) while also presenting a thoroughly sign-posted and well heeled pulpy as hell mystery. There’s some seriously deft handling of a large cast in a smoothly readable, surprisingly short amount of space. I never got confused. And now I know what happened to Escuerzo. Sheesh.
Meanwhile, my last pumpkin photo shoot was a less than deft example of how to handle a lot of characters. As always, Horace was being a good pig. Ozma, Peregrine, and Danger Crumples were not having it. Guinea pigs. Familiars of the thwarting kind.
56. City of Devils – Justin Robinson
Long time, no see, eh? Let’s just say that moving, starting a new job, renewing my ongoing battle with eczema (Now on my neck! Very visibly! You can’t see me!), most of my allergies, and trying not to engage with the fatalist part of my brain every second has been distressing. However, October is my favorite month and this book was FUN and I’m trying very hard.
When reading a book that engages heavily with pop culture, as this one does, I cannot help but think back to every writing workshop I’ve brought part of Night of the Squirrels to with the “But will everyone get it? Why are you referencing anything at all if everyone won’t get it?” questions. I get why people ask that. I get why workshops are concerned with that- they typically seem designed to make everyone’s work as accessible and therefore generic as possible. Some people don’t like pop culture, won’t appreciate references, have no sense of humor, etc. That’s fine. They’re fine. I believe the generic story with broad emotions and no pop cultural references humans are already being catered to very handily by several writers. Not me. Not Justin Robinson in City of Devils.
I do have to say I was initially skeptical when a vast variety of monsters were mentioned and I was especially skeptical when one of the characters was a gremlin named “Brows.” Full disclosure, probably not a surprise, I adore Gremlins (and Gremlins II) and I don’t want to see anybody mangle anything about either of those films, including the gremlins that scared me to death when I was little. Hi ho. Thankfully, Robinson has enough respect for this subject matter and the necessity of red herrings in mystery stories and not leaving loose ends (or maybe I should say stringy, pulpy ends as I was pretty happy with how the pumpkin-head, not the Henriksen movie one with too big scapulas -more like Jack from Return to Oz, ended up being more than just a lawn visitor). Maybe he also has a Gremlins lunchbox. Even if he doesn’t, I really appreciate having a solid example of how smoothly references can work to truly deepen the possibilities of appreciation in a funny, original story.
The meshing of horror movie monsters (the werewolves vs. wolfmen distinctions were particularly amusing to me) with noir tropes and humor in sweaty post-war L.A.’s secretive studio system and underworld really worked for me. I was expecting it to be like what the movie Dylan Dog wanted to be and it easily met and exceeded that expectation, which makes it seem like I’m lowballing but I had high hopes for the Dylan Dog movie. City of Devils was more fun. I am also now concerned about the whereabouts of a toad.
If Thaddeus ever eats after midnight and becomes a Gremlin of the scariest kind, his name will be “Bolt.” I will not allow him to move to L.A. though, not even Louisiana, where I have spent many extremely sweaty days and nights.