Richard Kadrey’s Peculiar Science
The paranormal is a concept which lends itself to countless interpretations, ranging from total nonexistence to being all around us permanently. Most people who consider themselves followers of science and fact above all else, such as myself, generally fall on the end of the spectrum where we admit the general possibility of the idea but refuse to buy in without any concrete evidence. With that being said, simply because we fail to ascertain or disprove the existence of the paranormal doesn’t mean it cannot serve as a magnificent source of entertainment, especially in the literary domain. Richard Kadrey is an author who certainly sees the same potential in this approach, as was evidenced in his undoubtedly unique novel, The Everything Box. It introduced us to the lovable master thief Coop, now working with the Department of Peculiar Science, and his adventures continue in the sequel titled The Wrong Dead Guy.
Even though Coop is working with the government and has mostly gone legitimate, it doesn’t mean his rather specific talents have to go to waste. A mission is placed before him and his team: recover the ancient Egyptian sarcophagus containing the remains of a powerful mage from olden times, named Harkhuf. The heist goes off without a hitch, but soon after the problems start piling on. Mainly, when Coop’s boss opens the coffin he inadvertently releases Harkhuf back into the world, which wouldn’t be all that terrible if he didn’t seem hell-bent on destroying everything. Needless to say, Coop’s boss puts all the blame for the incident on him and orders him to bring the rogue sorcerer back in line. The situation is further complicated by the wizard’s objective: to find a magical manuscript to bring his lover back from the dead… whose ambitions mostly consist of world domination. The chaos is drawing near, and Coop perhaps wishes he had stuck to a life of petty crime instead being stuck saving the world… again.
Despite this being a direct sequel, you don’t really need to have read the first book as this is a fresh story with everything needed to bring new readers on-board.
The Old Wolf at it Again
Building on the characters and atmosphere established in the previous book, this novel readily takes on the mantle of its predecessor and aims to have us bask in the ridiculous situations and predicaments Coop finds himself in. There is nary a moment for us or our beloved protagonist to take a break as there always seems to be something nagging at him, someone in need of his help, a world requiring saving.
In my opinion, he is definitely the driving force behind this story and his wisecracking attitude plays big role in giving us the motivation to carry onwards. While it is true character such as him can have that hit-or-miss quality, in my opinion he is likeable enough and flawed in all the right ways to make him an enjoyable driver for the story to most people.
The journey he goes through this time bears all the hallmarks of a manic comedy, swinging him from one extreme to the other like a pendulum and plunging him into uninhibited madness from time to time. The people surrounding him and guiding the plot forward aren’t exactly depicted in as much detail and serve more to advance the story rather than anything else. Even so, I still enjoyed most of their presences which ultimately found their place in the plot, however superficial some might be. If anything, they serve as useful contrasts to Coop’s colourful and vivid personality, creating a further appreciation for the man.
A Blender of Stories and Metaphors
This type of story, as I’m certain you are able to deduce, isn’t exactly about giving us food for thought or pushing some sort of important message on humanity. It’s here for entertainment purposes, and Kadrey understands that perfectly. There are multiple storylines going around in The Wrong Dead Guy, some smaller than others, and a few which I venture to say went off-topic, so-to-speak, diving fully into the madness of comedy and foregoing plot progress. For instance, it felt as if the millenials trying to save the environment in misguided ways didn’t add anything to the story, other than a few gags. While in some books this would definitely be a negative, I feel it works well enough for this sort of discombobulated story which only seeks to delight the reader in the moment. On the whole, I’d say the plots remain solid enough to pique your interest at the proper times and hold your investment in the story.
One of Richard Kadrey’s most prominent qualities is his wordsmithing abilities. All of his stories are written in an instantly recognizable prose, often attempting to find the humour in even the most mundane of objects or situations. For the most part, it works rather well as the metaphors and similes do help colour the narrative in brighter and more inviting shades. However, I do feel Kadrey went a little overboard in this specific text as there are times when the metaphors simply don’t stop flowing one after the other, and let’s just say they’re not all equally good. It is nice to have a few moments of respite from time to time, and some sections of the story could have largely benefited from something more straightforward. I do not think this should dissuade you from reading the book though; this isn’t some big deal of a problem making the novel unreadable, but rather a slightly weak point which to me seemed entirely avoidable.
The Final Verdict
With all things considered, even though The Wrong Dead Guy doesn’t live up to the very best of Richard Kadrey’s capabilities, it remains nevertheless a delightful little story you can blast through for some guaranteed entertainment. If you enjoyed the previous book in the series and Richard Kadrey’s works in general, then I believe you will like what this novel has to offer.
Richard Kadrey is an American novelist from San Francisco, as well as a freelance writer and photographer. His greatest claim to fame is the Sandman Slim novel, listed on Barnes & Nobles as one of the thirteen “Best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Decade”. He has also penned Metrophage and Dead Set, as well as some non-fiction books including The Catalog of Tomorrow and From Myst to Riven.