Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Joe Fury and the Hard Death

by Paul Anthony Long

It may have worked for Mervyn Peake in his Titus Groan series, but writing a convincing novel with little sense of time, place or situation is a hard trick to pull off. It's the details like this that ground a story, and any author with the audacity to omit them had better have a genius on the level of Peake's to placate us with.

So the action begins in a diner in the back of beyond (although beyond what, we're not told), where private investigator Joe Fury takes on a case. He's asked to bring in Kieran Walsh to face charges. Preston, the client, is tight-lipped about what these charges may be, however. Joe soon finds out that this case is trouble, when a group of gun-toting nuns turn up and attack him. But nuns are the least of his worries. The fast-talking Joe is set upon by all manner of crazies as he hunts for Kieran.

Joe is accompanied by Sue, who wields an Uzi and gets the private eye out of an unlikely number of scrapes. On their travels they meet pirates, dead presidents, aliens, ninja chickens, and a cockney mechanic. They get caught in dinosaur battles and gothic castles. They meet the ruler of Hell. This may all sound like tremendously zany fun, but it's not. All too soon Paul Anthony Long crosses a line, and what might have been quirky and interesting becomes formulaic. It's freaky all right, but that's not the same thing as being inspired or interesting.

Joe's environment keeps changing abruptly, and part of the mystery he has to solve is where he actually is. Reality lurches from one extreme to another, and we're kept wondering whether he is dreaming, dead, or under some kind of magical spell. It's quite disorientating. Whenever it looks as though we're going to find out a little more about the nature of the world Joe is in, further explanation is tantalisingly snatched away, often in a hail of bullets. That would be okay if the story offered some kind of payback for all of its infuriating vagueness. But there don't seem to be any rules governing the chaos, and there's no logical theme connecting one wacky situation to the next. With no discernible subtext there's nothing to take away from the story, no reason to feel enriched for having read it.

Moreover the bizarre goings-on soon settle into a recognisable pattern: weird events are followed by violence, then speculation about Kieran, then some yelling, and then more weird events, and so on. There's a gunfight on almost every other page. This quickly moves from predictable to downright tedious.

Joe Fury himself isn't very engaging. A caricature of the noir private eye, when he's not poking guns in people's faces and asking "What's the beef?" he's slugging whiskey like water and chain-smoking. He's violent, crude, and incapable of giving anyone more than 20 seconds of his attention, and he parrots his catchphrases constantly. Although Sue is less talkative she's no more rounded a character.

Joe Fury and the Hard Death is a hard read for all the wrong reasons, an ultra-violent orgy of silliness that finishes in the same state of vague confusion it started out with. There's precious little meaning to be wrung from this unimpressive novel, and the reward for slogging through its pages just isn't worth the effort.

Book Details

Year: 2009

Categories: Books

    Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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1 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson


Ant Wright     8th October, 2009 22:33pm

I'm glad some playful dissent is acceptable as I have just read your review on googling this book after buying it at the weekend, and have to say that it seems to miss the point of what I read: clearly a parody of the hard boiled detective style and a host of fantasy conventions. And very funny. Maybe it would get a better reading on a comedy website? :)

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