Picking up a new book by Duane Swierczynski is a lot like setting out on a road trip with a bipolar drinking buddy off his meds. You have no idea where you’ll end up, but it’s a good bet the journey will include tons of laughter, some tense moments, and enough spilled blood to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. And when it’s all said and done you’ll feel like dusting yourself off and doing it all over again.
With Fun and Games, Swierczynski kicks off his new trilogy with Little Brown’s Mulholland Books. The first installment introduces Charlie Hardie, a career house sitter whose daily ambition is to guzzle booze and pass out watching old movies on his clients’ couches. We meet Charlie on a flight to LA, where he’s lined up a month-long gig babysitting the house of a movie composer who’s heading to Moscow.
Initially, Hardie’s defiantly proud that he’s carved out a niche for himself that requires little more than semi-consciousness and a willingness to travel. Hints are dropped that there’s more to Charlie than meets the eye, but Swierczynski’s knack for storytelling is such that we trust Charlie’s back-story to reveal itself in time without slowing the copious gunplay that’s sure to follow.
Fun & Games‘ other lead is Lane, a controversial actress whose career’s on life-support since a high-profile meltdown made her Hollywood’s latest celebrity burnout. We first encounter Lane burning through the Hollywood Hills, trying to outrun a man who may or may not be trying to kill her. By the time Charlie arrives at the composer’s house, a frightened Lane is using it to hide from the people she’s now convinced are gunning for her.
Lane’s pursuers, it turns out, are members of a secretive murder-for-hire organization that specializes in doing away with inconvenient celebs in ways that look like accidents or suicides. Once Charlie stumbles into the middle of their botched attempt to make Lane their latest victim, he becomes a target, too.
The rest of the book is vintage Swierczynski as the killers, known as “The Accident People” try out different “narratives” of killing Charlie and Lane without leaving behind evidence of the hit. When Charlie starts striking back instead of cowering in fear, the Accident People realize they might have bitten off more than they can chew, and soon they’re scrambling to keep the situation under control. As the body count soars, Charlie’s back-story is revealed (a back-story, by the way, that would make for an interesting series itself) and the killers’ plans to wrap this job up quickly go barreling off the rails.
Along with fellow writers Charlie Huston and Victor Gischler, Duane Swierczynski leads an insurgency of new crime writers specializing in fast-paced crime rife with sharp dialogue, caustic humor and over-the-top violence. Together, they ensure that the grittiest and most compulsively-readable crime fiction in the world is still produced right here in the USA.