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HCC 041 - 1969 - illo by Gregory Manchess

Peter Ross is a radiologist on vacation in Spain, hoping to pick up girls and relax while “attending” a big medical conference. This is cut short when he agrees to do an autopsy, which he’s not qualified for, and discovers that the dead guy has… something… stuck inside him. Of course, everyone else wants that thing in the dead guy—the “artifact” macguffin—and want Ross, because they think he’s working for one of the other sides. Now he’s caught in a three-way crossfire, dodging rival gangs on his way to staying alive. Oh, he also meets up with the beautiful Angela Locke (the hottie on the cover reading Lange’s other Hard Case Crime, Grave Descend, one of the few I don’t own), who gets embroiled in the mess with him.

I have to say, this book is incredibly cinematic: between the flow, the characters, and the plot, it has “Hollywood thriller” written all over it. (It also follows a key rule of writing: show me a gun and, sometime during the book, it has to go off. Once the characters get to the Alhambra, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) The pace is breakneck; I literally picked the book up and read it over a Saturday afternoon because I couldn’t put it down. And there are more twists and turns than in a knot of yarn. Characters turn out to be double agents, small groups turn out to be working for other groups, and most of them have a habit of winding up dead sooner or later. This is a book that doesn’t slow down and never lets go.

There’s only two problems with this book. First, the author added a prologue and epilogue, Ross narrating this story to his grandkids, as a framing device. (I know they’re new because they reference DVD players.) These are unnecessary, since it’s not a great segue into the book, and all it tells us is that Ross survives. (They get a little creepy when you realize Ross is telling his grandkids about all those pre-mom “relationships” he had…) The second problem is bigger, but less annoying: the plot rolls all over Europe, through Barcelona to Paris to Grenada, but there’s really no feel for the setting. At all. Besides a few vague descriptions, there’s really nothing to grab onto…a letdown, considering these are gorgeous, evocative places we’re talking about. To nitpick some more, the ending is flimsy, and while it’s a zippy little book, everything takes a backseat to moving forward, so don’t expect deep characterization or anything. Instead, expect plot holes.

Lange is actually the pseudonym for a fairly well-known writer—not one you’d expect, but one you can find with a little bit of Googling. And oddly, that surprised the hell out of me, since this book is like nothing else of his that I’ve read. Zero Cool has a number of flaws, but it’s one of the most enjoyable Hard Case books so far. It’s fast and furious entertainment, which makes up for a lot of the flaws.

Afterword:

Another repost. This novel shows a very rough beginning of an otherwise famed author of thrillers and techno-thrillers. Between the rapid pace and some of the developments, I think the novel feels very cinematic—like a movie—which is a benefit and a disadvantage. Disadvantage in that it felt very predictable, sometimes shallow, things happen because the plot dictates such, and its characters are one-dimensional. Add the fact it lacked description, and you have… a very rough beginning of an otherwise famous author. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of it, but it’s very much a big dumb action movie in book form. Hence why I ran out of tags. There are better Hard Case Crimes. Not all of them are this entertaining, though.

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