Ready Player One

Bibliographic Information 

Audiobook $22.74
Paperback $16
Hardback $19.07
Kindle $9.99
Associated ISBNs 9780307887436
9780307887443 — Paperback
9781524755614 — Paperback
9780307887450
9781451752335 — Glued Binding
9780606264129 — Glued Binding
9788466421140

Rating (VOYA)

5Q, 5P

Readers Annotation

Whoever wins the game will change the world

Summary

Welcome to the Dystopian Future (again)! This time its because people used up the fossil fuels (and are idiots) and corporations suck. The internet/web/Oasis is where people escape/work/go to school. There’s corporate slavery (indentured), and tons of espionage.

At the beginning of our story, the Oasis is free for everyone to access. When the creator (Haliday) dies, he sets up an “egg hunt” in order to find the successor to his empire. The game is simple: find the three keys, open the three gates, pass the tests and get the egg. There are individuals trying for the egg (“gunters”), groups of gunters (clans) and IOI (an evil corporation trying to win and charge people for access).

SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Highlight to read.

Our main character is on Wade Watts is a teenager living in the stacks, a ghetto where trailers are literally stacked on top of each other. He lives with his aunt and her boyfriend and several other tenants. Wade is a “gunter,” and spends all of his free time looking for the egg. Wade goes to school online. Wade sneaks out of his trailer and climbs down the stacks daily to hide away in a broken down car in a junkyard to go to school. He heats his space with a bike powered heater. Wade has one friend: Aech. Aech is a professional gamer and travels, and is a high ranking avatar.

Wade has an epiphany one day in Latin that gives him an idea on where the first key is. He gets a pass from the school to travel to the area on the school planet where he’s sure the key will be. It’s a skull shaped grove and he goes through the cave of traps (insert all the 80s things here that I can’t remember) until he reaches the end. It turns out that the game he needs to play is the game Joust (80s game). He wins eventually and gets the copper key. The copper key has the hint for the copper door. 

Just after he finishes, Art3mis shows up. Wade has a crush on her (she’s a geeky gunter blogger). She asks if he’s failed the Joust. He says he has. They chat for a while, Wade hiding the fact that he’s beaten the gate until Art3mis checks the scoreboard to find his avatar name (Parzival). She gets pissed and keeps him in the cave until all the traps have reset. Once free of the cave, Wade gives a hint to his friend Aech on where to find the Copper Key.

Wade continues on to where he knows the copper key to be: on a planet full of recreations of Haliday’s hometown. He goes to Haliday’s childhood home and knows he needs to play Dungeons of Daggerath. Once he completes it, he finds that a poster of War Games has turned into the Copper Gate. In order to pass the Gate, he needs to recite the words to the movie and do the actions correctly. He does everything and passes the first test.

Wade checks the scoreboard and finds that Art3mis has also made it through the Copper Gate and so has Aech, and two Japanese characters: Daito and Shoto. IOI has taken over the cave where the Copper Key is, and has sealed it off so that no one else can get a key and is churning out keys for their own players. Eventually the gunter clans come together and take out the IOI barracade.

Wade agrees to do corporate sponsorships in order to make money. He also gets an email from IOI. IOI wants to recruit Wade to work for them. Wade goes to the meeting with the head IOI seeker Sorrento. IOI offers him everything he could ask for, but Wade shuts them down. Then IOI reveals that they know who he is and where he lives. They threaten to blow him up. Wade believes they’re bluffing and still tells them no. He leaves the Oasis and then sees his trailer blow up.

Wade goes on the run. He assumes a different identity, and moves to Columbus, Ohio. He gets all the latest gear and devotes himself to finding the next key. He steadily gets more involved with Art3mis, and falls out with Aech. He’s never really officially dating Art3mis, and it all comes to a head at Og’s (Haliday’s best friend) birthday party. Wade tells Art3mis he loves her, she says he doesn’t really know her so he can’t love her and IOI attacks. 

After, Wade falls into a bit of a funk. He eventually gets out of it by forcing himself to become physically active. He re-focuses on finding the keys. Art3mis finds the Jade key and Wade plays a perfect game of Pac-Man. He earns a coin he cannot get rid of. Aech gets the Jade key and then sends Wade a hint in order to pay him back. Wade goes to Frobozz and plays Zork to get the Jade key. Then IOI takes over and starts farming Jade keys. They find the Jade Gate, and start getting Crystal Keys. 

Shoto finds Wade and tells him that IOI found Daito in real-life and threw him off a building.

Wade unlocks the Jade Gate (via Blade Runner) and plays Black Tiger to complete it. He then plays a riff from Rush on a guitar which gives him a clue that Sorrento overlooked. IOI makes public the knowledge of where the Crystal Gate is, and locks the place down with a special item.

Wade sends a message to Art3mis, Shoto and Aech and goes offline. He sets up a fake scenario to get captured by IOI in order to become an indentured employee in order to infiltrate IOI. He is captured and destroys his rig. He’s taken to IOI headquarters and placed in customer service. He backdoors his way into the surveillance system and then hacks into the servers. He plants a program to disrupt IOI’s force field. He learns that IOI knows who Art3mis and Shoto really are and are planning on kidnapping them. Wade makes a hasty escape and goes to a public Oasis station in order to contact his friends.

Wade lets them know that IOI is watching them and that they need to run. This is when Og appears. He offers them sanctuary at his home on the coast in order for them to safely attempt to complete the Crystal Gate. Og sends a plane for Shoto and Art3mis and tells Aech to pick Wade up and that they can catch a plane together. 

When Aech comes to pick Wade up he discovers that his best friend isn’t the dude he thought he was but a black lesbian. Aech tells Wade that she learned from her mother that it was better to have a male avatar because people would take a man seriously but not a woman. She also says that she left when her mother wouldn’t accept that she was a lesbian, so she drives around the country in an RV. Wade accepts her and the two reconnect on the way to Og’s house.

Wade sends a message to all the users of the Oasis telling them that everyone should team up to take down IOI and to meet them the next day in order to do so. When the four friends log in and travel to Anarak’s castle, they are surprised to find hundreds of thousands of avatars ready to take on IOI. Wade’s backdoor is a reprogrammed bot that self-destructs next to the item keeping the force-field around the castle. Once the barrier is down, its an all out brawl.

The friends turn into mechs, as does Sorrento (who turns into Mecha Godzilla) and some IOI cronies who have Crystal Keys. Shoto’s avatar gets killed by Sorrento, and Wade uses a special item to transform and take out Sorrento. The friends open the Crystal Gate and IOI sets off a bomb. Every avatar by the castle is destroyed. Wade only survives thanks to a second life (the coin from the perfect game of Pac-Man). Wade enters the gate. With his friends cheering him on, he completes Tempest and goes through Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

Wade gets through the movie and encounters Haliday himself who explains the situation. Wade brings back his friends avatars with his new powers and they all log out.

Wade and Og talk about Haliday and then Wade goes out to talk with Art3mis. 

Evaluation

This is, frankly, one of the highlights of my reading adventure this year (so far). This had everything: likable characters with realistic problems, great plot, interesting mystery, engaging world (both of them), and a great take on dystopia. What a world Ernest Cline created.

This book was full of things that I knew, or could relate to (despite being born in the late ’80s). I got the references, and I loved the little jabs. The fact that the audio book was narrated by Will Wheaton was the cherry on top of this cake.

Really though, Wade was a likable lead. He had real problems, and he had to address them. His character was relatable. Art3mis was great as well. Aech was top notch. I loved Wade and Aech’s bro-ship.  Sorrento was a hate-able villain, and IOI was the perfect evil corporation.

Wade’s real world was disturbingly real, and seemed like it could fall in the realm of possibility. His online world was a lot like modern MMOs. Both worlds were well drawn and completely believable.

I completely loved this book. I don’t want to live in it (what a horrible future!), but I want to re-read it and have the feeling I will many times.

Genre

Science Fiction

Dystopia

Readalikes

Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

Significance

An award winning SciFi, that isn’t too far away from our reality. Realistic future, and future tech.

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

What do you think about the big reveal?

Do you think IOI was a accurate portrayal of a corporation?

Talk about living in reality vs. virtual reality and the consequences of both.

Author’s website

Ernest Cline

Awards

Alex Award: 2012

Booklist Editors’ Choice – Adult Fiction for Young Adults: 2011

Nutmeg Children’s Book Award (Connecticut): High School

School Library Journal’s Adult Books 4 Teens: 2011

Reviews

Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Booklist

Why I Chose It

This sounded like a really interesting take on society, culture and dystopia. Plus, a friend said it was a really good read.

Other Information

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I Am Not A Serial Killer

Bibliographic Information 

Audiobook $22.00
Paperback $12
Hardback $19.61
Kindle $8.51
Associated ISBNs 9780765322470
9780755348817
9780765327826 — Paperback
9780765362360 — Paperback
9781429934848

Rating (VOYA)

3Q, 3P

While I love this book, its a 3Q because its not the most well written book, and it may have some plotting issues.

3P because I may love it, but surprise Paranormal may throw people off and not everyone is all about the murder/sociopaths.

Readers Annotation

John’s not a serial killer, but someone in his town is.

Summary

John Wayne Cleaver lives in a small town with his mother. His father left some years ago and they rarely talk. His mother and aunt work in the mortuary below the house. His estranged sister is their secretary. John occasionally gets to help embalm the corpses.

SPOILERS BELOW! HIGHLIGHT TO READ!!

We start with a murder. Someone in the town has been slashed apart and its making headlines. It’s also gained John’s attention. John is obsessed with serial killers. He’s also a sociopath, but is quick to point out he’s not a serial killer. He writes his school papers on serial killers. He only has one friend, but John doesn’t really have friends (because he’s a sociopath) but there is one kid he hangs out with so it seems like he’s more normal. His “friend” is kind of a douchebag.

The murder gets John thinking. He goes to the place where the man was killed. He notices a pile of black goo. He heads home. He anxiously awaits the body’s inevitable arrival downstairs. His mother is unhappy that he wrote another paper on a serial killer.

John sees a therapist once a week. His therapist Dr Nesbit is the only person who can somewhat understand John and who he is.

A second murder occurs, much like the first one. John starts to think that there’s a serial killer. He starts putting the pieces together. He talks to his friend about the “whys” of the case until his friend gets weirded out. 

He and his mother have a big falling out, and John is banned from helping with the embalming. 

John goes to a dance at school with his friend. At the dance, he meets a girl and talks with her (and later realizes he likes he… sort of). They are interrupted by a bully. John calmly threatens to murder him, which scares him and the girl off.

John’s mother hears about the incident and John has to talk to Dr Nesbit about it. He reveals that he has a set of simple rules so that he can prevent himself from becoming a serial killer: not watching people, not talking to one person for long, and so forth. He developed these rules from studying serial killers, because while he really doesn’t understand people, he really doesn’t want to be a serial killer.

Near Christmas, John notices his neighbor (Mr. Crowley) picking up a suspicious drifter to go ice fishing. John trails them on his bike, thinking the old man is stupid for picking up a drifter who obviously is going to try to kill him. He watches from the trees, secretly berreating himself for only watching and not stopping what’s about to happen. However, it turns out the drifter is the victim. Mr. Crowley is a demon. His fingers turn to claws and he rips the drifter apart. He takes an organ from the drifter, pulls out the same organ from his own body and switches them. His former organ turns to black goo. Then he drags the body away to dispose of it.

John is beside himself. He knows no one will believe him, and he knows he’ll have to do something. He starts to monitor Crowley’s behavior and movements. He starts breaking his own rules, knowing he’ll need to in order to keep an eye on Crowley and eventually kill him.

One night Crowley goes out to “watch the game” but John knows there is no game on that night, which means that Crowley is going out hunting. He follows on his bike and Crowley seems to get more frantic trying to find a victim. He finds one in an alley. John calls the police and waits. Crowley kills the man and takes part of him. The police arrive and there is a showdown. The police are slaughtered. Crowley takes another piece to replace his own failing pieces from one of the policemen. 

John realizes that breaking his rules is helping him start to spiral out of control. He realizes he’s stalking the girl from the dance, and threatens his mother. Even Dr. Nesbit seems concerned with John’s behavior. John needs to come up with a plan.

John comes to the realization that Crowley is trying to wait as long as possible to replace his organs. So John devises a plan. He starts leaving Crowley notes that say something like “I know what you are/did.” Crowley starts to freak out. Crowley waits so long in fact, that the next time that he needs to replace something he can’t go to his normal hunting grounds and kills one of the people from the town, who happens to be John’s friend’s dad.

The town host a memorial. John doesn’t entirely understand the point and wants to go home. He also doesn’t understand why the people are only morning for two of the townspeople and not the rest of the people that the killer has killed. John realizes he doesn’t understand why Crowley is doing this.

He talks with Dr. Nesbit, and brings up a “hypothetical” situation to get his opinion. “Why would a demon stay if he had to kill to and clearly didn’t like killing?” Dr. Nesbit helps John realize that he doesn’t understand because the demon clearly loves his wife. 

When Crowley can no longer keep from feeding, John puts his plan into motion. He sneaks into Crowley’s house and sneaks up to his wife’s room. He grabs her camera and starts taking pictures, getting gradually closer to her. He then bashes her over the head. He can’t stop himself and keeps hitting her. He barely pulls himself away and calls Dr Nesbit. He tells Dr. Nesbit that he can’t stop. Dr. Nesbit talks John down and says he’s coming over to see him. John hangs up. He ties up Mrs. Crowley and keeps taking pictures. Then he starts sending them to Mr. Crowley. 

Crowley speeds home and John barely has time to escape out the back door. He needs to sneak around Crowley’s care to get safely home. He looks through the passenger side door and there is Dr Nesbit. The man had come out to go help John and had gotten killed for it. John drags the body out of the car after realizing Crowley hadn’t stolen any organs from it. He hides the body behind the garage. Crowley comes out of the house furious and starts hunting for John and Dr Nesbit’s body.

At this point in time, John’s mother wakes up and finds him gone. She starts freaking out. John sees that his mother is coming out of the house and so does Crowley. John makes a mad dash to get to her and the two of them race through the house towards the embalming room with Crowley hot on their tales.

They reach the embalming room and defeat Crowley.

Evaluation

I did not expect where this book was going. I honestly thought it was just about a sociopath trying not to kill people (sort of ala Dexter). There was more to it this book than that.

I loved John Wayne Cleaver. This little sociopath is amazing. Not only is he aware of his own tendencies, he is trying desperately to not become what he could be. He is such an aware teenager (which, now that I think about it is a bit of an oddity). The great thing about John is that he just doesn’t understand people’s emotional motivations (and duh, he’s a sociopath). Nearing the climax he wonders why the demon is staying in town, and it just never crosses his mind that its staying because it loves its wife. Oh John… he just needs someone to understand him.

Point being, the characters are great. Learning about the characters from John’s perspective really gives you a different sort of insight into them. John doesn’t necessarily understand people or their motivations, but we can see them through him. John’s mom is an interesting character who is trying so hard but just doesn’t get it. His “best friend” is kind of a douche. His aunt is almost sympathetic. Dr. Nesbit is the only one who really understands John, and it comes through in his point of view.

Clayton is a small town, and you can tell. Its not the most graphically depicted, but you can feel how small it is through the way John talks about it.

Plot-wise, this one took a turn on me (as previously stated). I can see where people looking for a Dexter sort of deal may not like the turn to the paranormal, but since I love paranormal I didn’t have a problem with the twist. However, despite the paranormal turn of events, I thought this was a great introspection on a sociopath’s life experience. Have I mentioned how much I like John?

Genre

Horror

Mystery

Paranormal

Readalikes

Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

Killer Instinct by S.E. Green

Significance

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

What did you think about the paranormal twist?

What did you think about the Wells’ portrayal of a sociopath?

What would you do if you knew you could potentially be a serial killer (psychopath)?

Author’s website

Dan Wells

Awards

Reviews

Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Why I Chose It

This book sounded like an interesting introspection into the mind of a sociopath.

Other Information

The Running Man

Bibliographic Information 

Audiobook $60.99
Paperback $12
Hardback $18.40
Kindle $8.99
Associated ISBNs 9780451115089
9780451197962 — Paperback
9780451230621 — Paperback
9781101212141
9780340952283 — Paperback

Rating (VOYA)

4Q, 4P

This Bachman book is pretty great (especially in audio where the countdown becomes just that more visceral) but its not perfect.

This should be bouncing back in popularity due to the popularity of dystopias in general and the political climate.

Readers Annotation

He’s on the run for money… he’s on the run for his life.

Summary

SPOILERS BELOW! HIGHLIGHT TO READ!!

Welcome to the Dystopian future USA. This particular future has television ruling the world (practically). Ben Richards has no job, his wife is hooking to make money, and his daughter is sick with pneumonia. They cannot afford to get her medicine. Richards decides to try to get on a game show to get money. He’s hoping to get something like the show where people with heart conditions run and get asked questions until they have a heart attack, or the one where you swim with alligators.

Richards heads to the studio and stands in line to be interviewed. He takes an aptitude test, gets psych evaluated, and examined. All the while he is thinking unkind thoughts about the whole process, the interviewers, and the system at large. In the end, he and two other men are selected for a show that no one will tell them. They go up an elevator and one of them says that he thinks they’ve been selected for THE RUNNING MAN. When they reach the top, they’re called one by one into the executive Killian’s office. When Richards comes in Killian (a big black man) tells Richards he’s been selected for THE RUNNING MAN. Richards signs the contract, tells Killian he doesn’t want the hookers, and Killian gives him an advance on his winnings (with strings that if he doesn’t earn enough the studio will got after his wife and daughter). He is given a day before he will be set loose. Killian gives him one piece of advice: stay with his people.

Richards spends his day reading books, and sending his advance to his wife. He is told that his wife and daughter are being guarded so that no one will come after them.

The next day, Richards is taken to the studio. He’s given the rundown: twice a day he must video tape himself for 10 minutes and send the tapes to the studio. If he fails to send in the tapes, they will kill his wife and child. He is given some money. They do his intro: Ben Richards: non-conformist, jobless, and societal fighter. His wife: whore. They doctor his wife’s photo and Richards gets pissed. Security guards Killian as he laughs at Richards impotent rage. And then he’s set loose.

— important note on the game: in THE RUNNING MAN, the runner is set loose in the general population. His job is to survive as long as he can. He earns money for getting away and for every “hunter” and person he kills. Regular people can phone in tips for cash rewards. “Hunters” are basically law enforcement, though the studio has its own special “hunter” who coordinates the law enforcement. —

Richards takes a taxi, and the driver says he’s going to send in a tip to get the $100 reward. Richards doesn’t care. He sneaks to a shop where a “friend” can doctor up some fake ID. Then he travels to New York.

In New York he rents a hotel room. He tapes himself with a pillowcase over his head and any identifying marks covered. Every day he wanders out in his disguise. He starts to feel antsy and thinks that someone has figured out where he is. He pays for a few extra nights, leaves as usual and travels to a different part of the city.

He rents a room in the Y(MCA). He’s only there for a few hours when he realizes they know where he is. He flees to the basement, and ends up setting the place on fire as he leaves through the tunnel. He comes up in a different part of town and runs into a black kid.

The kid brings his brother to Richards. They go back to the kid’s home. There Richards learns about the air and how polluted it is as he listens to the kid’s sister dying from lung cancer in another room. They brother knows how to send the tapes without them being traceable. The brother takes Richards to a different part of the state. He tells him of a contact that can help him.

When Richards finds the contact’s home, he discovers he’s not home. So Richards waits with the kid’s mother. She slowly realizes who he is and threatens to call the police. The kid comes home and tries to reassure his mother that Richards is ok and that she shouldn’t call the police. The kid goes to hide Richard’s car.

When the kid comes back he discovers his mother has called the police. Richards and the kids flee. The get to the car and then are chased by the police. They get shot to hell, but temporarily lose the police when the kid takes Richards to an abandoned mall. The kid (mortally wounded) goes off to lead the police on a chase and his inevitable death.

Richards stays the night in the abandoned mall. In the morning he treks through the overgrowth and finds a gas station. He needs to mail his tapes. But he knows if he goes to the gas station he’ll be spotted and then caught. Luckily, a kid and his dog come by. Richards convinces the kid to mail his tapes.

Richards hijacks a car on the road that a woman is driving. He forces her to drive him to the nearest airfield. 

The “hunters” beat them there. Richards threatens the woman’s life and bluffs his way to obtaining a plane and crew. He takes along the big bad “hunter” (whose name I forgot). On the plane Killian contacts them. He tells Richards his wife is dead and that the studio wants to hire him as lead “hunter.” Richards kills the “hunter,” the pilots, and shoves the woman in a parachute out the door. He drives the plane into the studio’s building.

Evaluation

I’ll be honest. I read this because I love the movie. I know what you’re thinking: “What a horrible movie that movie was!” Yes. Yes it was pretty bad, even for an ’80s movie, but it was pretty epic. I love the camp of it all. And while its not great, it did have a message that I appreciated.

Anyway. On to the book.

Let’s start with the obvious: the book is better, and the book is different.

Of course it is! No book is exactly like it’s movie (unless its a book based on a movie… maybe). I remember watching Interview With the Vampire after I had read the books… and even though Anne Rice had helped with the screenplay, it was still different. Point being: DIFFERENT!

The obvious difference is the setting. Book!Ben Richards has full run of the world (though he really probably won’t be taking a plane ride). Movie!Ben Richards has the game arena. Book!Ben’s world is much more scary than Movie!Ben’s. Book!Ben has to be wary of every person he meets. Anyone could turn in information about him for cold, hard cash. Book!Ben hangs out in New York, goes to the sticks and then hops a plane. Movie!Ben hangs on in the arena, which has several themed areas.

The circumstances are different: Book!Ben is trying to get money for medicine for his sick kid and the only way left for him is to be part of the games. Movie!Ben said “no” to a direct order and was captured and forcibly put into the game. These circumstances have huge impacts on the characters and their actions and motivations. Book!Ben volunteered. He needs to stay alive as long as he can to help his wife and baby. He hates the system (and because he does he ends up on The Running Man) and along the way he learns that the air is poisoning the people. Book!Ben has a set of complicated morals and circumstances. Movie!Ben is aggressive and while he’s “fighting the man” it doesn’t really seem like a cause he believes in.

Movie has crazy costumed hunters. Book has regular people and law enforcement hunting the runners.

Movie has constant surveillance. Book has mailed in tapes and news coverage.

Movie has cheesy good guys win ending. Book has much more complicated ending with no clear winner.

I love this book.

This book is a believable dystopia (given antiquated technology), with a set of compelling characters and a disturbing setting.

Ben Richards is a layered character. He’s not necessarily good, he’s not bad. He’s a man put in a difficult situation trying to fight an oppressive system which put him in the situation he finds himself in. He feels bad killing people. He cares about other people even when he shouldn’t. He’s not entirely smart. He’s thrown in a situation that he doesn’t know what to do in.

Yes, Killian is evil, but he’s not a cartoon-y bad guy. He knows what will get ratings, he knows what buttons to press, and he knows how to manipulate a situation.

Every place Ben Richards goes to is detailed. We know the situation, we know where we are, and we know what to expect.

The chapters get shorter and more intense as the clock counts down (which is pretty darn brilliant).

Look, I could break it down for you, but I won’t.

This book is a must read for me. Its a great piece (sure its not perfect) that makes you think. Its a heart-pounding thrill ride. It’s…

THE RUNNING MAN

Genre

Science Fiction

Dystopia

Readalikes

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Distraction by Bruce Sterling

Significance

A dystopia where the government is your enemy, the media is your enemy, and your neighbors are your enemy.

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

Do you think this is a possible Dystopian future?

Talk about the prevalence of media in life.

What would you have done?

Author’s website

Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Awards

none

Reviews

Amazon

The Guardian

Why I Chose It

I wanted to read this because I love the awesomely cheesy (and incredibly bad) 1980’s movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Other Information

Falling Angel

Bibliographic Information 

Audiobook
Paperback $13
Hardback $19.57
Kindle $6.15
Associated ISBNs 9780312957957
9781933618081 — Paperback
9781453271131 — Paperback
9781933618098 — Hardcover
9781842431542 — Paperback
9781453246702 — Paperback
9780446314329 — Paperback
9781453246580
9781453281703
9781480480742 — Hardcover

Rating (VOYA)

3Q, 3P

This book is pretty well written given the subject and era it was written in but its not perfect.

This won’t be jumping off the shelves. Its an older book, with a plot that won’t appeal to everyone and a subject that could hold it back.

Readers Annotation

Harry Angel is hired to find a man gone missing from a medical ward… 15 years ago.

Summary

Harry Angel is a P.I. in New York City. He has just been hired to find Johnny Favourite, a former big band singer and current coma patient, by Louis Cypher. Harry goes upstate to see if he can visit Johnny, but when he gets to the hospital they tell him that Johnny was transferred to a military hospital 15 years ago. Harry calls the VA hospital and they tell him that Johnny was never there.

(SPOILERS AHEAD, HIGHTLIGHT TEXT FOR FULL SUMMARY)

Harry breaks into Johnny’s doctor’s house and snoops around looking for clues. When the doctor gets home, Harry blackmails him with his morphine habit but the doctor won’t talk. Harry ties the doctor up to his bed and goes for a walk to give the doctor time to think about his information request. When he comes back he finds that the doctor has apparently committed suicide.

Harry returns to New York and gives an update to his client. He gets information from the newspaper about Johnny’s life before he disappeared. He finds out about Johnny’s ex-fiance and bandmates. He puts in calls to the bandmates and tracks one “Toots” Sweet to a club in Harlem and an M. Krusemark. He finds that M. Krusemark is the fiance’s (Margaret) sister and a fortune teller.

“Toots” Sweet and Harry talk about what Johnny was like back in the day (no friends, hanging out with mystical people, perhaps not a liker of black people). “Toots” tells Harry that Johnny had a black mamba (voodoo priestess) on the side and Harry ducks out to check out her place of business. Johnny’s woman is dead, but her daughter Epiphany now runs the store. She denies being involved in voodoo. Harry returns to the club and talks again with “Toots” until Harry touches on some things that “Toots” doesn’t want to talk about. “Toots” clams up and Harry decides to follow him home.

“Toots” doesn’t go straight home though, he stops in Central Park to participate in a voodoo ritual, led by Epiphany. After the ritual is completed “Toots” heads home. Harry follows him in and threatens him to get information and then heads home.

Harry returns to check in with “Toots” the next day, only to find him slaughtered on his bed with voodoo symbols written in his blood on the wall. Harry is harassed by the police, who think he’s murdered “Toots.” Harry tries to talk to Epiphany, but she isn’t in her store. He goes up to check out her apartment above the store. He hears her leaving and follows her straight to Margaret Krusemark. The women discuss Harry trying to find out about Johnny. They leave and head in separate directions. Harry follows Margaret.

Margaret goes to her father, the shipping tycoon. Harry poses as a window washer to and eavesdrops on their conversation. Margaret and her father talk about Harry and Johnny. After Margaret and her father leave, Harry comes in to the building, he finds an invitation for Mr Krusmark to attend a Black Mass (satanic mass) and leaves in a hurry. He has lunch and then decides to check in on Margaret.

Margaret has been murdered, her heart pulled from her chest and put on display. Harry tears a page from her calendar (which had his name on it), the astrology map she had made for him, and anything else he thinks will incriminate him and goes home.

Later Epiphany finds him. She’s afraid for her life. She tells him that Johnny Favourite was her father. Harry invites her to stay with him. They have a lot of (not explicit) sex. The next day the police come calling again. After they leave Harry and Epiphany go to a church where El Cifer (Louis Cypher in black face) is performing. When they return after a creepy fire-and-brimstone performance, they hole up in bed. The next day Harry tells Epiphany to stay home while he goes to see the Black Mass.

Harry takes cameras and his gun with him to the Mass, being held in the subway tunnels. The Mass includes creepy masks and cloaks, baby sacrifice, virgin defiling and an orgy. Harry takes pictures of it all, paying special attention to the tycoon Krusemark. After the ceremony, Harry confronts Krusemark for answers. Krusemark and his daughter had sprung Johnny and paid off the doctor at the clinic. Johnny had performed a ritual to fool the devil, with whom he had brokered a deal, into not collecting his due. He sacrificed a soldier and taken over his life. Krusemark and Harry get into a fight, and Krusemark gets electrocuted on the third rail.

Rattled by these relevations, Harry rushes back to Margaret’s apartment to find a vase that Krusemark had detailed in his story. He breaks open the vase to find Harry Angel’s dog tags. He knows who he is.

Louis Cypher aka Lucifer, talks to Johnny, telling him he can never escape and then leave. Harry/Johnny immediately thinks of Epiphany and runs home. The police are already there, Epiphany has been murdered and Johnny realizes he’ll never escape and will burn in hell.

Evaluation

I’m not sure I really enjoyed this book, which is sad to me. I literally may have fallen asleep at times, but I trucked through (b/c I was already halfway done and damnit I could finish this book, it wasn’t that long). I found it hard to avoid the spoilers (but did discover that it was turned into an awful looking ’80s movie) since this is an older book.

I really wanted to like this book. I just didn’t. I’m not sure if it was the pacing (slow), the characters (kind of boring), the plot (actually pretty inventive) or the fact that it was a Noir (never read one of those before).

Look… its got a really interesting plot with some really interesting ideas… but I just found it so boring (though those last 40 or so pages were pretty exciting). I don’t know.

New York was pretty vivid. Hjortsberg spent a lot of time laying out the details of New York (Ts, cabs, neighborhood, and so much more). New York was well drawn out, and so was the social climate of the book. Talk about dated language! But it was so fitting. It set the mood. It helped form the world. The world the book was set in was detailed.

However, the characters weren’t super compelling. I wasn’t particularly moved by Harry Angel, or his quest. Cipher became intriguing as the book went on (and as his identity was being revealed). Epiphany might have been the only compelling character, and even then she was thin but interesting. This book wasn’t big on character.

I don’t know, I was so disconnected and bored by a book that should have been exciting.

Genre

Mystery

Horror

Readalikes

Mr. Clarinet by Nick Stone

The Long Fall by Walter Mosley

Significance

A Noir style mystery with Voodoo elements and a horror twist.

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

Did you figure out who Louis Cypher really was?

What did you think about the ending?

Let’s talk about identity and how it ties in with the book.

Author’s website

William Hjortsberg

Awards

None

Reviews

Kirkus

Amazon

Why I Chose It

This book sounded like a great mix of Noir and Horror with some identity crisis thrown in.

Other Information