Review: Trouble Walked In
by Mike Kupari
Ezekiel “Easy” Novak has a nose for trouble, which is probably what makes him the best private eye on Nova Columbia. In the future, when humanity has colonized distant planets and fought many wars, there’s still a need for the good man willing to do bad things for the right reasons.
When Dagny Blake walks into Novak’s office and hires him to find her sister, he knows he’s in for a world of trouble.
It’s not unlike Chinatown, where a private investigator finds himself mixed up in a family drama and the local politics. Unlike Chinatown, the fate of an entire planet is at stake. Ezekiel “Easy” Novak, war hero turned gumshoe, works out of a small office in Delta City and takes what work he can find. Need to know if you spouse is cheating? Missing person? He’ll find out. When Dagny Blake comes in and asks him to track down her missing sister, Cassandra Carmichael, his instincts tell him there’s more happening below the surface. How much more he can barely comprehend.
Cassandra works for a powerful corporation with tentacles stretching into some dark places. As the investigation progresses, Easy and Dagny uncover a conspiracy involving alien technology, and are nearly killed in the midst of an assassination. Dagny and Cassandra’s stepfather may have answers, but can he be trusted? The same question applies to Easy’s maybe-not-so-former secret agent informant.
Once the pieces start falling into place, it's with earth shattering impact.
Kupari follows in the footsteps of all the hardboiled greats, introducing what seems like a simple problem that gradually snowballs into a cataclysm. Several genres weave together seamlessly, as Kupari draws from mystery, sci-fi, romance, and even works in a heist. Easy has a wry sense of humor, a pocket cannon revolver, and well-stocked liquor cabinet that even Phillip Marlow would admire.
Easy Novak is our protagonist narrator. A former soldier with a strong sense of dignity and honor, he’s a good man. But he’s not always that good. We never despise him for his flaws and are on his side when he justifies a mistake. And in a refreshing change from most genre fiction, there’s nothing “chosen one” about him. Novak is just an average guy.
Every detective needs a good Girl Friday, and Easy’s is his secretary Lily. Young enough to be his daughter and worldly-wise in ways Easy isn’t, she has his best interests in mind and he hers.
In less capable hands, Dagny Blake might have been just another femme fatale. If anything, she’s more developed than Easy, with a backstory that defines her and damaged just enough to make her irresistible to everyone she meets. Feminine in all the right ways, hopefully we haven’t seen the last of her.
Even though this takes place in the distant future on a far-flung planet, the world doesn’t feel that far out of reach. It’s familiar so that the learning curve for the reader isn’t very steep. Cell phones and taxis still exist, if by different names. A disease that has people wearing masks is a cause for concern, of course, but crime and corruption are the real threats. Virtual reality brings in elements of cyberpunk. Aliens have been met and fought, but aren’t integrated into daily life. As usual, neither disease nor an outside force is as dangerous to man as man is to himself.
Really, the focus is more on the people that inhabit the world than in building out a detailed world itself.
It’s political, and yet it’s not. The future as presented is realistic in that humans never really change. Corrupt mega corporations and the government work hand-in-hand when they aren’t stabbing each other in the back, while the anarchists are still young and dumb. The job of maintaining society falls to the worldly-wise individual, who should be as strapped with as many guns as possible.
All the usual suspects are here: sex, nudity, violence, and language. Nothing too outrageous, so approach it with a tasteful R rating in mind and you won’t be shocked.
Who is it for?
There’s no missing the homages. Anyone who loves everything from The Big Sleep to Blade Runner, or needs a fix while waiting for the next installment in The Dresden Files or Monster Hunters International, will feel right at home between these pages. There are also shades of Arrival for the more philosophically minded.
Why read it?
It opens with a quote from Tracer Bullet, and if you know who that is, isn’t that enough? At the end of the day, it's a human story that addresses our deepest fears and failings, and never denies our sense of wonder. And it's a tight mystery besides.
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