Criminal underworld? He runs in it.
Supernatural underworld? He hunts in it.
Nothing stops Mookie when he’s on the job.
But when his daughter takes up arms and opposes him, something’s gotta give…
Chuck Wendig is a writing machine and has a steam-roller personality. Not only has he published ten novels in the past two years, he also blogs almost daily on his site Terrible Minds. And if you read his blog and follow him on Twitter you can’t help but be charmed by this, somewhat foul-mouthed, but always entertaining phenomenon that is the bearded one. Me? I’ve been a convert ever since reading Blackbirds, the first in his Miriam Black series, so to say I was looking forward to his first novel in a new urban fantasy series was a given. And in Mookie Pearl he’s created a main character that is just as memorable as Miriam Black.
Like Miriam, Mookie lurks on the edges of society, though he is a hard-core criminal, where Miriam is more of a small-time con artist. Despite the dark nature of his occupation, he’s a sympathetic sort of fellow and you can’t help but feel for the man when he is confronted by his estranged, and angry, daughter. It’s this painful and complicated relationship that is central in the novel and it was one I connected to quite strongly. Nora’s need for her father’s love and acceptance and her need to make him hurt for the pain he caused her came through the narrative on a visceral level and the way this conflict – which on a less intense level is universal to most children of broken homes – is handled and evolves during the novel was touching and really well done. But Mookie is more than a rather shitty dad and a criminal; he’s also an enforcer who keeps those above safe from the denizens of the Great Below. And he’s also a guy whose hobby is charcuterie a.k.a. making fancy sausages, a fact which I love and which cracked me up the first time it came up. In short, Mookie is a complicated, well-rounded character, who comes across as a man who has regrets, but doesn’t wallow in them. He is surrounded by an interesting and varied cast of characters, both human and supernatural, with especially Nora and Skelly and the quite creepy Ernesto standing out.
The world building for the book was amazing. I loved the way Wendig constructed the Mob being in control of not just the criminal underworld, but also the actual underworld. Mookie’s talents place him somewhat out of the usual chain of command, which gives him a lot of leeway to go off the beaten path when it comes to doing his job. The underworld, ranging from the underground, to the sewers, to tunnels, to natural cave systems, comes fully realised and left me rather claustrophobic at times. My favourite part Mookie visits is the village of the dead, called Daisypusher, a shanty-town, where nothing living resides, but which has some surprisingly lovely touches in the flowers crafted from garbage, where what the world above discards finds a new life as decoration. The link between the Great Below moving up and the creating of a third water tunnel was creative and I liked the fact that there was a special Sandhogs sub-division to keep the goblins and other bad things from coming up the tunnel to the surface. The titular Blue Blazes is a drug that is mined from the Great Below that lets the user see the uncanny, which is usually hidden from mankind. It also serves as a regular party drug and is some of what the Mob is using to make money. Nut it comes in more colours than just blue and I loved how they all played a part in the story and the various powers they granted.
The plot is a combination of murder mystery and ‘save the world’-narrative and quite entertaining. At some points it seemed as if solving the murder of one of the Mob’s soon-to-be main players would be lost in the scuffle, but everything circled back neatly and it never was really forgotten. The pace of the story is high, with lots of action and adrenaline, though Wendig lets the reader and Mookie take a few breaths every once in a while, so the narrative never becomes a breathless rush to the end. As ever, Wendig doesn’t hesitate to throw in some profanity and his writing style is sharp and to the point, though sometimes something almost poetic sneaks into his descriptions. While tonally similar to the Miriam Black books, thematically The Blue Blazes is quite different from them; Miriam is a young woman trying to learn to be at peace with her gift – or curse, depending on who you are – where Mookie is a man who knows who and what he is, who is looking for a way back to his daughter and to keep his city safe.
The sad, but also hopeful ending resonates with mythical meaning and makes for a powerful and satisfying closing to this story, though since the work is listed on the Angry Robot site as book one in the series, it hopefully means ‘see you later’ and not ‘fare thee well’ and we’ll be able to return to Mookie, Nora and Kelly for more adventures and more underground discoveries. Fans of Wendig’s will gobble this one up and be satisfied he’s still getting better with each book, while those of you not yet converted to the cause, can rest assured that The Blue Blazes is a perfect introduction to Wendig’s writing. However, if blood, murder, and profanity aren’t your cup of tea, you might want to steer clear of this one.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.