Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Slaughterhouse Blues

At the end of Nick Kolakowski's first book, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, we left the less than respectable but true to each other couple of Bill and Fiona on the run.  They were survivors, barely, of all manner of dangers.  Bill had ripped off a New York City outfit called the Rockaway Mob to the tune of several million dollars, and not surprisingly, the outfit sent people after him.  Bill is best at talking himself out of perilous situations, but he can handle himself physically when he has to, and Fiona is extremely adept with weaponry.  Of the two, she is the one with a lethal skill set and who's comfortable in the ways of violence, a fact Bill accepts.  Their exploits, and Bill's larceny, don't leave them many places to remain in the United States, and so when Slaughterhouse Blues begins, they have left the States behind.  Like many outlaws, they've fled to Cuba, ostensibly off the American radar.  But it can't be that much off the radar because a weird and bland couple (Ken and Barbie bland) are tailing Bill around Havana, and even their designer clothes and perfect Waspy looks can't disguise how menacing they look.  It's obvious the Rockaway Mob have found him again and that they've come to Cuba with bad intentions toward Bill.  To make matters worse, he and Fiona recently quarrelled, and he doesn't have her there in Havana to plot and fight alongside him.  She's in Nicaragua where she has a job to do - a job that fits her peculiar talents that always shine when the going gets bloody.

Nick Kolakowski wrote an entertaining book with his debut novella, but Slaughterhouse Blues marks an advance. While Saps went back and forth between the first person point of view of a hired killer and Bill's third person point of view story, Blues sticks to a third person telling of its dual narratives, Bill and Fiona's.  The result is a more consistent tone and better narrative momentum.  Without feeling hectic, which Saps at times does, Slaughterhouse still moves at a smooth, brisk clip.  And in terms of tone, Kolakowski is assured. A lot of people try to mix chaos, violence, and dark-edged laughs, but not many writers pull it off well.  Nick does.  He's at home with gory slapstick, delivering brutality with a grim smile.  But he never forgets that human beings are involved, and much as the violence is exaggerated, it never quite becomes cartoonish.  And there is always some emotional tug at the heart of the mayhem; the series isn't called A Love and Bullets Hookup for nothing.  Bill and Fiona are like any other couple dealing with their issues, except they both happen to live outre, dangerous lives. So do the scary Ken and Barbie figures trying to kill them, and they prove to be a kind of distorted mirror reflection of Fiona and Bill.  During the middle of a tense scene where violence can erupt at any moment, Ken launches into a disquisition on the importance of listening to your romantic partner.  It may seem an unlikely time for such a talk, but the revelation that stone-faced killer Ken gives a lot of thought to how to connect with his partner accentuates the basic human truth at the heart of this story.  Whatever profession people have in life, whatever life path they follow, however outside the mainstream they may be, when it comes to relationships, everyone has the same issues to deal with.  You can take a human life in one second - that's easy - but can you be open to hearing what your partner wants from you and can you be flexible enough to respond meaningfully to what you hear?

I have a feeling that the next book in the series, besides having more love and more bullets, will explore these questions.

You can pick up Slaughterhouse Blues at Amazon right here.

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