If you are unfamiliar with the Wild Cards shared universe series, I hope that you will first read my previous article. This is a non-spoiler review of the 5th book in the series. But when I say ‘non-spoiler’ what I really mean is that there are no spoilers for that specific book. Since Wild Cards has several plot threads that span multiple books, just my naming of a character’s presence in this book may give a hint as to what happened (or did not happen) in a previous book. So you’ve been warned. If you plan on reading the earlier books in the series, I’d consider waiting until you’ve done so before you read this review. Otherwise you may find out that character X survives, Character Y does not, and Character Z is really a villain/hero/douche. OK, you’ve been warned (oh, and definitely read the earlier books — with the exception of book 4, they are all excellent, while book 4 is simply ‘decent’).
The first several chapters/stories in Down and Dirty take place concurrently with the events in book 4, the WHO tour described in Aces Abroad. The latter part of the book takes place after that tour. The book opens with the Mafia deeply embroiled in a gang war against several different asian gangs, seemingly united under the control of an unknown crime boss (but we know who it is from the previous books). And Brennan (aka Yeoman) intends to take advantage of the situation to infiltrate one of the gangs. He hopes to work his way up in the organization, so that he can finally confront the target of his vendetta, Kien Phuc, who he knew from back from his time in Viet Nam.
The book has several intertwining stories to it, and fans of Croyd Crenson will be glad to know that this is a Sleeper-heavy book — Crenson appears in several of the different plotlines. I won’t say that he’s the ‘star’ of the book, but certainly he crosses paths with a lot of people, many of whom regret it.
We also see the return of Modular Man (who was destroyed by Crenson in a previous book) and his creator, Maxim Travnicek, who is just as demented as ever. Cordelia Chaisson has grown up (mostly) and is in the record business. The Turtle (aka “The Great and Powerful Turtle”, aka Thomas Tudbury) is dealing with PTSD and thus looking towards permanent retirement — something that would surprise anyone, since the world thinks that the Turtle died on that fateful Wild Cards day, when The Astronomer had his shell napalmed and sunk to the bottom of the Hudson River (Tom escaped with his life, though many other people did die on that day). We also get to know Dr. Tachyon’s formerly estranged son, Blaise, who is, essentially, a spoiled brat.
Here’s a listing of the intertwining stories, along with their authors (from Wikipedia):
|“Only the Dead Know Jokertown”||John J. Miller||Yeoman infiltrates Kien’s gang as things heat up in New York’s underworld.|
|“All the King’s Horses”||George R. R. Martin||The Great and Powerful Turtle must find a way to get back into his shell.|
|“Concerto for Siren and Serotonin”||Roger Zelazny||The Sleeper is hired by the Mob to do a few “special” hits, but is unaware of his contagion.|
|“Breakdown”||Leanne C. Harper||Mafia princess turned district attorney Rosemary Muldoon gets Bagabond and Sewer Jack unwillingly involved in the growing gang war.|
|“Jesus Was an Ace”||Arthur Byron Cover||Reverend Leo Barnett saves Quasiman‘s life.|
|“Blood Ties”||Melinda M. Snodgrass||Dr. Tachyon helps Jokertown prepare to defend itself during the gang war.|
|“The Second Coming of Buddy Holly”||Edward Bryant||An Aids-Wild Card awareness concert may bring rocker Buddy Holly — who is still alive in this universe—out of retirement, and will change his life more than he knows.|
|“The Hue of a Mind”||Stephen Leigh||An Arab woman with precognition sees the secrets of Puppetman.|
|“Addicted to Love”||Pat Cadigan||The parasitic Ti Malice has come to New York, looking for new “mounts” to live through.|
|“Takedown”||Leanne C. Harper||The Mob turns against Rosemary as the war goes against them.|
|“Mortality”||Walter Jon Williams||Being killed once has given Modular Man a fear of Death that propels his efforts to hunt down The Sleeper.|
The quality of the writing here is excellent. There isn’t a story here that I can say is bad. Certainly, “The Second Coming of Buddy Holly” seems a little bit out of place, but that is forgivable, considering just how good it is. I was least interested in the Mary Muldoon/Maria Gambione story line. She’s never been one of my favorite characters, but I do like some of the peripheral characters in that story, including Bagabond, Sewer Jack, and Croyd Crenson (of course). I ALWAYS wish for more Brennan someone who really is one of my favorites. But I’m thankful for what I get. He both starts and ends the book on high notes.
Now, I have to wait a bit before I can get book 6, Ace in the Hole. I have it pre-ordered from Amazon in e-book format, and I should be getting it on October 4th. If you are desperate, you certainly can get older editions of it, but I prefer electronic format because I take my kindle everywhere. I’m excited about it because, from my vague memory of the book, it was one of my all-time favorites of the entire series. It’s the culmination of the whole Puppetman story, and it takes place entirely at the 1988 democratic convention. At least it’s out before election day.