Today’s team review is from Barb, she blogs here http://barbtaub.com/
Barb has been reading Shrouds Of Darkness by Brock Deskins
“Don’t be too sure I’m as crooked as I’m supposed to be. That sort of reputation might be good business, bringing high price jobs and making it easier to deal with the enemy.”—Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, 1942 based on Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel)
Leo Malone is a private investigator, a knight in dubiously-rusty armor who is ten times as antisocial and unfriendly as his hardboiled detective models—and a lot more dead, or at least undead. Told mostly in the first person from Leo’s POV, we soon realize his private eye monologue about how detached he is and how little he cares about people doesn’t exactly match up to his actions. When we meet him, in fact, the first two items on his to-do list are to stop an abusive father and a rapist. But just in case we miss that point, Leo muses, “It’s possible, and this is a stretch, the pretense is me not giving a shit. Maybe I am pretending to be a heartless bastard so I can go on doing what I do without becoming a complete basket case.”
Author Brock E. Deskins goes on to check off most of the remaining hardboiled detective tropes:
- Trenchcoat: You just know Leo is a spiritual descendant of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe because he wears a trenchcoat. (Although Leo’s is one of a dozen identical three-thousand dollar coats, each a “custom-made Miguel Caballero bullet resistant trench coat.”)
- Femme fatale: we all know about her—she’s called a “dame” and she has “gams” that defy nature when she appears in our gloomy detective’s even gloomier office with a job for him. In this case, the blonde bombshell comes in the form of Katherine Goldstein, whose father is missing. “Her long golden hair cascades over her shoulders better than halfway to her narrow waist and seems to glow with a light all of its own.”
- Set up to take the fall: Leo knows he’s probably going down, and has a pretty good idea of who is behind it, but just doesn’t know how to be the kind of person who behaves any differently. What he is, though, is pragmatic about how to face the coming doom. “Fortunately, being a pain in the ass is what I do best, and the more I’m a pain in the ass, the more overt they’ll have to get to deal with me.”
- Friendly villain: the real monsters are of course, the ones most like Leo. But in true homage to his film noir roots, Leo works as contract bodyguard for Yuri, a good(ish) bad guy who models himself on The Godfather and stays bought. Leo muses, “I don’t know if I would go so far as to say I like Yuri, but we have a mutual sort of respect for each other. I’m not real quick to judge the lifestyles of others.”
- Girl Friday: For most hard-boiled detectives, an assistant is out of the question. A lucky few like Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade, though, do have the “office wife” to shelter, mother, and cater to their every whim. Leo? Not so much. His occasional assistant is Marvin, a computer genius and would-be badass hampered by the unfortunate circumstances of having a father who is dean of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and a mother who is a world-renowned biologist and Nobel nominee.” [NOTE: Leo must have used his vampire mojo to find out that one, since the Nobel committees do not divulge the names of nominees.]
- MacGuffin: This could be anything—Jason’s Golden Fleece, the LOTR rings, Indiana Jones’ Arc of the Covenant, and especially hard-boiled detective Marlow’s Maltese Falcon statue—an object that moves the story along without actually being important in itself. In this case, the macguffin comes in the person of mild-mannered Martin, accountant to the mob, and missing father of blonde bombshell Katherine. Oh, and… a werewolf.
- Bittersweet ending? Don’t be ridiculous. This is just the first of a series which already stretches to three volumes.
Although this book got off to a slow start with a fairly massive info dump about the flavor of vampires and werewolves in Leo’s world, it did pick up with plenty of fast-paced and bloody action, accompanied by lots of suitably snarky observations from Leo. I just had a few problems with some of it. For one thing, there was the racism. Some of Leo’s comments about “squints” (Asians) he attempts to dismiss by playing the age card, claiming that’s what they called them when he was growing up. But he clearly knows better, and in fact refers to the rapist he stops as “black” (instead of the term we all know he would have heard those eighty years past)—although, he doesn’t ever bother to name the races of (presumably) white characters. Women seem to fall into the angel or whore categories, usually by haircolor. In fact, the vampiress who turns him has black hair, while the golden-haired Katherine is a smart and beautiful and willing to sleep with him without any of that annoying wooing or foreplay.
But for me, the missing pieces that usually make all this genre-mashing palatable are humor and a little humility. If the protagonist isn’t just so unstoppably able to defeat every single threat with literally superhuman acts of strength, I might legitimately feel more tension over the outcome. And if there’s a sense that everyone tacitly accepts their whole preposterous world is built on the fluffiest of fantasy, and is thus willing to laugh at themselves and their situations, the reader is so much more likely to willingly suspend disbelief and go along with the fun. At least, this reader is.
Still, if you’re looking for a fast-paced action story with plenty of blood, a clever plot, standard tropes, and comfortably-familiar characters, then Shrouds of Darkness might be for you. It’s certainly those features which will have me round up my three and a half star rating to four stars for online reviews.
Leo Malone: Vampire, body guard, Private detective, and all around pain in the ass is hired to find a client’s father who has gone missing, but not only is the missing man an accountant for the mob, he is a full-blooded werewolf.
What seems to be a simple case of a werewolf run amok turns into a massive conspiracy that threatens to reveal the existence of both species as the brutally dismembered bodies of humans begin turning up all around Brooklyn.
Leo quickly finds himself embroiled in fights between werewolves, vampires, the mafia, and the local police. Luckily, violence is what Leo knows best.