Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur
Pages: 240 pages
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Secret Dead Blog
Duane Swierczynski’s The Blonde is a crazy kick in the face chase action comedy. It took me by the balls and threw me against the wall again and again with each development and twist.
Jack Eisley is a normal guy, just a reporter from out of town who comes to Philadelphia to go through divorce proceedings with his wife, so what the hell, he has a drink with a pretty blonde and chats her up and has a good time, until she calmly informs him that she poisoned his drink and he won’t get the antidote unless he promises to stay within ten feet of her at all times for the night. He laughs in her face and gets out of there. It’s barely an hour later when he feels the symptoms, violent chills, nausea, and truly epic power vomiting. So he makes his way back to the airport and finds the Mysterious Blonde and grudgingly follows her back to her hotel room and agrees to her bargain. It’s just one night, right?
And that’s when Swiercynski dials it up to twelve.
The other player in Swierczynski’s The Blonde is a Government agent who makes Jack Bauer look like a boy scout who, in his spare time between jobs, enjoys sniping the Philly mobsters who killed his wife, the only person that ever made him happy. When his Controller calls him, she tells him the target is on the move. The target is the mysterious Blonde and her new friend Eisley.
It’s a really fun book. Swierczynski follows up last year’s stunning noir heist The Wheelman by trying his hand at throwing in screwball comedy into a chase story and it mostly works. The reason why The Blonde (Who has many names.) needs to stay within ten feet of someone is a little outlandish, but not more than anything else in the world the book inhabits. Where else would you get a truly violent fight between a Hotel security guy and a government agent? Or a Gentleman’s club that involves a bare room, chains, and a saddle? Swierczynski has a fluid almost conversational writing style and if The Wheelman was homage to Richard Stark, The Blonde is very much in the vein of Donald Westlake. Swierczynski isn’t afraid to get dark and he’ll put his characters through hell and really bizarre situations to entertain the reader.
And it mostly works.
Like in The Wheelman, he gives the exact time of each event, but it gets a little tired in The Blonde because it doesn’t fit the story as well as it did in the massive and convoluted heist plot of The Wheelman. Also, Eisley is a little hard to sympathize with, I could feel for him as he got into one insane situation after another in the course of one night, but I didn’t really like him, which is a shame, because every other character works so damn well. I want a whole novel devoted to his government agent Kowalski. I could forgive this if Eisley was a shady character, but Swierczynski writes him as a normal guy who un-wittingly risks his life when he decides to flirt with the pretty blonde in the airport, and his last act with his wife is totally despicable and un-called for.
Ah, Philly. Swierczynski writes the city like only a native can. For example, did you know that cabs will take you to the airport for a flat rate? He writes it with a real love/hate relationship flair and insider knowledge and I appreciated the flavor and character he gave to the city.
The Blonde is a really good novel that doesn’t pull any punches and was refreshing in this day and age of “wacky” crime novels. It’s great in the way that Carl Hiaasen’s older books were with the way Swierczynski takes chances and wants the reader to laugh as much as he wants you to cringe. I highly recommend this when it hits on November 14th and am anticipating Swierczynski’s next book eagerly.
Not as good as: Donald E. Westlake
Better than: Tim Dorsey
Read if you like: Running Scared