Mookie Pearl is a great creation, a fictional protagonist who just for once isn’t gifted, handsome, wise-cracking or a wizard. He’s an ugly, pug-faced lunk (albeit an unusually intelligent lunk) who breaks heads and solves problems with blunt instruments as a mob enforcer. He’s a heavyweight of the underworld – and in this universe, a compelling, coherent construction from the pen of Chuck Wendig – Mookie moves effortlessly from the criminal underworld to the subterranean, paranormal underworld. That’s where goblins and ghouls and bad things lurk, and where Mookie does most of his work.
The ‘blue’ in the title is a kind of drug, one mined from below, which allows normal folk to see the supernatural / dead things which surround them. Some are benign, harmless halfbreeds, others are sinister serpent-men, venom dripping from their fangs. As the chapters fly by – this is one of those books where it’s extremely easy to get embroiled and lose an entire afternoon – we meet Mookie’s dysfunctional family; his daughter, Nora, who shot his best friend / boss in the hip and is working to undermine the mob and control the supply of Blue.
We explore their extensive environment, one which artfully blends real world reality with ghastly things, normally only glimpsed in the shadows. There’s a team of workers, the men who dig the tunnels under the city, some of whom know its stealthy secrets and are on the lookout for things that creep and sneak and scheme. There are mob hitmen, rival gangsters, an entire village of dead people (at least one of whom Mookie may be responsible for), and an ancient evil poised to rise from the depths…
This is a hard-assed, no-holds-barred blend of black-humoured noir and the sinister supernatural, with substantial action set pieces thrown in. There’s little philosophising or moral debate, but a whole chunk of inventive concepts stitched together into a convincing construct and peopled with realistic characters (and that’s surely saying something for half-men half-goats, or the living corpse of a fire victim). It righteously rattles along, deftly pulls the plot lines together, and offers a far more substantial read than the average ‘wizard high jinks’ urban fantasy. There’s quite a few tributes to ‘golden age’ horror tales in here, too.
The Blue Blazes is also blunt, violent and bloodily explicit, so not for folks who lean more towards the ‘romantic’ side of the supernatural spectrum. This is hard-boiled and reasonably hard-core, and a blast from beginning to end.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig is available as an ebook or paperback