Monday, July 11, 2011

Book: Fun & Games, by Duane Swierczynski (2011)

Here’s a word they love in Hollywood: setpiece. A setpiece is an extended action sequence in a memorable location. Pick any summer blockbuster of recent vintage. It’s a string of setpieces, most of which are given away in the trailer.

Duane Swierczynski’s impressive accomplishment with Fun & Games is to turn the entire damn book into a setpiece, an epic free-for-all in which you can scarcely catch your breath.

Ex-Philadelphia cop Charlie Hardie has been so scarred by tragedy that he’s gone vagabond, wandering the world’s pricier precincts and serving as glorified house sitter. He arrives for his latest gig at a manse in the canyons of Los Angeles only to discover an uninvited guest has beaten him there: Lane Madden, of the fading B-list career and troubled personal history. Lane recently survived a car wreck that she swears wasn’t an accident. In fact, she insists it was caused by The Accident People, shadowy operatives who specialize in staging deaths that no authority will question. She’s certain that they’re still coming after her.

And she’s right.

To say that the book goes from zero to sixty in no time flat implies that there is a zero. There isn’t. Pedal has already met metal on page one. Yet amidst the propulsive pace there’s room for Lane’s story of near-success in Hollywood, and the secret she’s been keeping that makes her the target of these killers. Even better is the revelation of who The Accident People are and how they end up in this rarefied line of work. It’s darkly funny stuff that seems strangely ... plausible. And there are useful statistics on death and dying throughout, so you learn as you go.

Duane is a proponent of what I think of as the Carrie ending*, that one final twist of the knife just when you think it’s safe. He uncorks a doozy here that perfectly sets up the sequel Hell & Gone, due on Halloween, with the last book in the Hardie trilogy to follow next March. Plenty of time for you to get in on this one.

* I have invented an entire cinematic vocabulary based on the work of Brian DePalma. Ask me what it means for a character to be Benny Blanco’ed.