Friday, April 29, 2011

Review of Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski (Point Blank, 2004)

Detective Del Farmer is obsessed with a Las Vegas crime syndicate he calls ‘The Association’ that were the cause of his death. Occupying the brain hotel of Agent Kevin Kennedy of the FBI he tracks down other victims and gathers their souls hoping they can tell him how to identify Association members. When the FBI suspect that Kennedy isn’t who he says he is, Farmer borrows the face of the Association’s latest murder victim, Brad Larsen, and sets off in pursuit of Larsen’s killers. After months of running and hiding, and in desperate need of funds, he ends up in Philadelphia taking a job to protect a rich, young woman. But something is about the job doesn’t feel right, the souls in his guest hotel are proving less than helpful, and someone keeps trying to kill him.

Secret Dead Men was Swierczynski’s debut novel. Its start is somewhat ponderous and hesitant, the prose a little flat, before picking up. My suspicion is that there was no easy way to open the story given the concept at its core. Swierczynski has one hell of an imagination and taking a novice and immersing her/him in the world as he’s conceived it, and to believe and go along with that world, takes a lot of skill. He manages to pull it off and after the first two dozen pages the story is zipping along. The jumping between bodies, false identities and double crossing demands a certain attention to the plot, but it’s well worth it. Secret Dead Men is a blast of a read and the most imaginatively conceived crime novel I’ve read in ages, possibly ever. The story twists and turns its way toward a dramatic conclusion. I tried to tell someone about it not long after finishing. The response was: ‘I know, I know, you’ve already told me – it’s a complete mindf**k’. That about sums it up – a complete head-wrecker of a novel. Wonderful stuff.

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