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Book Reviews by Edogawa Ranpo

Burn Me Deadly
Alex Bledsoe
October, 2009

Sequel to The Sword-Edged Blonde

Read Amy O'Connor's review of The Sword-Edged Blonde

The key element of a successful pastiche is that the pastiche must stand on its own. If a reader isn't familiar with the source material, it should in no way hinder their enjoyment and understanding of the book they are reading.

Alex Bledsoe succeeds admirably with Burn Me Deadly, his second novel in the Eddie LaCrosse, "freelance sword-jockey" series.

Bledsoe combines elements of fantasy with those of the hard-boiled detective mystery. (I can't say he uses elements of "heroic fantasy". It's 90% hard-boiled detective mystery, 10% elements of fantasy.)

To begin with, I found his style to be disconcerting. There is no poetic prose such as one normally associates with heroic fantasy. Indeed, here's the opening dialogue (sans the action prose), as a desperate beautiful blonde dashes into the road and he must jerk desperately at the reins of his horse to keep from trampling her:

... "What the hell, lady? You could've killed us both!"
... "Wow," she said softly. "That was close."
"No kidding,"I snapped.

And then,

"Please sir, I have to get away from here. I'm in terrible danger."
"Uh-huh," I said dubiously. .. "How about you tell me what you're doing out here undressed like that?"
"I'm in danger, sir. Please, I'll explain everything later, but right now, I must get away from here."

However, once you accept that that's the way they talk in this particular world, the action comes fast and furious.

Eddie agrees to give the woman a lift to the nearest town, Neceda. He tries to get her to tell him what's going on, but she insists that he can't help her, except to get her to the town alive.

Eddie is so confident that he can do so that he promises her they'll make it. Unfortunately, they are waylaid just when safety seems to be in reach. The girl, Laura Lesperitt by name, is dragged away, and Eddie is left for dead. When he recovers consciousness, it's to find Laura's dead body lying next to his. She has been horribly tortured before her death, too. Her torturers were trying to find out the location of something she'd hidden, to no avail.

Eddie vows to find out who did it, and to kill those responsible.

He has only one clue. One of the men who waylaid them had been wearing expensive black boots, "decorated with a silver dragon design that sparkled in the moonlight." Eddie is going to seek the man with those boots to the ends of the earth, if he has to, to avenge Laura Lesperitt.

Does this sound familiar? Lovers of film noir will recognize it as the opening sequence of the classic film noir, Kiss Me Deadly, starring Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer and Maxine Cooper as Velda, his secretary. (It's presumably also the opening of the novel by Mickey Spillane. More people have probably seen the movie than read the book.)

Kiss Me Deadly is one of my favorite films, and I found myself casting Ralph Meeker in the role of Eddie LaCrosse, and frankly I think Maxine Cooper, as the athletic Velda, could have handled the role as Eddie LaCrosse's lover, a freelance courier (as opposed to a sword jockey), and a strong and self-confident woman, Liz Dumont. (One of a very few in the book. Most of the women are the typical, 1940s hard-boiled film noir women...decorative and dangerous, not necessarily in that order.)

Eddie needs all of Liz's help as he struggles to discover the truth behind Laura's death, and the secret that she was willing to take to her grave. Unfortunately, Liz begins to act strangely, too, and Eddie wonders if he can trust her, after all...just as he needs her help the most. There are under-currents, as a King's Special Office of Domestic Security agent and his minion are on the case, and don't want Eddie's to interfere in any way.

The book is tightly plotted, with twists and turns, body after body - as you might expect in a hard-boiled novel! - and a satisfying ending... what in this fantasy world could possibly replicate the McGuffin that was the deadly suitcase in the finale of Kiss Me Deadly? A satisfying one, as you'll find.

Here's another example of Bledsoe's prose:

My rage boiled up like it used to before a battle, when I first caught sight of whoever I was being paid to kill that week. Back then I learned to summon it at will; now it sprang to life unbidden, with the force of something vicious released after too long in a cage. It took all my resolve to control it as the man responsible for everything stood ten feet below me now and all I could do was perch like a silverfish and listen. If I moved an inch to the right, I'd roll right off the beam and crash through the ceiling right on top of him. He'd damn sure never see that coming, and believe me, the temptation was strong. But there was more at stake now than just getting my hands on Laura's killer. I dug my fingers into the wood so hard it bent back my nails.

The mystery is intriguing, the denouement effective ... although after what would have been a poignant final paragraph, the book goes on for a few more anti-climactic pages, as some more of the last chapter mystery explanations are gone through...

Nevertheless, if you're a hard-boiled mystery fan, you'll enjoy this.

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