Saturday, November 21, 2009

Review: Sex, Death, and Honey by Brian Knight

Well, it's time for another book review. This time I will actually review a book that I did not find in the bargain bin for fifty cents - Sex, Death and Honey by Brian Knight. It's now out of print, I think, you can check on Horror Mall and see if Cargo Cult has any lettered editions left.

Normally I shy away from doing reviews of current books, just because frankly no one really gives that much of a damn if I review their book. I'm not published (yet) and as such am just a fan, and actually there are bigger fans out there who do reviews that more people read. So while I'm sure authors appreciate any attention their book gets (I know I would), it just seems like a waste to me, some kind of pretention on my part, especially because I'm usually reading these books months after everyone else has already finished with them. I've thought about just doing a list or a blurb about what books I'm currently reading, though, but I hate low-content blog posts. I'll keep thinking about it because I've been reading a lot of good stuff lately.

And boy howdy, one of those great books was SDH. I had to write something about it just because it was so different, not just from what Knight usually gets into, but from what you typically see out there in the horror genre. As such I felt like me and Knight were on the same wavelength as I read through the book.

It does not disappoint. SDH is a good crime novel that's got a tone somewhere between funny and serious, and it always works. You never find yourself laughing at something Knight is trying to play deathly serious, and you never find a joke falling flat. Good characters and a plot that moves along well, a twisty story that doesn't get so complicated you're left scratching your head, and lots of great action. I particularly liked how the main character is not a shlub. He's not a genius, he's not even really a detective, but Knight doesn't expect you to sit around and read a story about a guy who's constantly showed up by the people around him. This is one of the things that drives me crazy about so many books. Usually the (male) hero will have his thumb up his ass half the book while his spunky (female, of course) partner shoots badguys with one hand and makes eggs 'n bacon with the other while she solves the crime in her head.

This doesn't happen in SDH and the book is better for it. Instead of playing some weird politically-correct game, Knight just creates solid characters that make sense, that are flawed but aren't hopeless either, that have their own talents and their own way of overcoming the obstacles thrown in their way.

Knight even manages to pull off a common mystery-story trope - what I call the Cussing Clue Bird - and make it fresh. The Cussing Clue Bird is, of course, the mysterious parrot, macaw, whatever, that is owned by the murder vicitm or somone else involved in the nefarious deeds our hero is investigating. Usually the bird will cuss a blue streak (hence the term), though if it's a more family-friendly book he will just shout random interjections, usually setting up for a joke later in the book (e.g. the bird says "That's gotta hurt" at some point in the beginning, then later the hero falls on his ass and the bird busts out this funny comment). It will also randomly dispense clues that are incomprehensible until the hero has the information he needs to make sense of whatever nonsense the bird is talking. Usually the CCB (or just Clue Bird if it's on TV or a PG movie) is a sign that you are in for some bad or at least formulaic story.

But rather than expect us to take the bird totally seriously, or set us up for a Donald Westlake laff-riot, the parrot is sort of the hero's introduction to a weird crime world where the usual rules don't apply, a level above (or below, if you will) the hero's world of straightforward vehicle repossessions and debt collections. Knight does something amazing with this trope, showing his chops as a writer - he makes it not suck. This shows a bit of dash and I like it, it's always something I try to do. A risky move, pulled off well. He who dares, wins.

Overall, SDH is a fun book to read, and I don't mean that in the condescending way a lot of other reviewers do, as if somehow this type of book is not serious whereas books about, say, the zombie apocalypse are high literature. Too often "fun" seems to be used as a pejorative term amongst fans of any genre fiction and particularly horror. Knight takes his fun seriously and it shows, you never feel like he's laughing at you for reading this book, it never seems phoned in or like he wrote it on a dare or anything. Really, for a book that is essentially about sex trafficking, I would have thought it easier to go the route of taking things far too seriously, maybe have the hero in a hopeless relationship with the victim where she cries a lot. The overall tone of the book is hard boiled without being hopeless, gritty without being misanthropic.

Bottom line is, if I heard Knight was doing another one of these, I'd snap it up.

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