The Short Version: Peter Brown (aka Pietro Brnwa) has gone into hiding, again, this time as Dr. Lionel Azimuth – a cruise ship doctor. He’s plucked from this rather ignominious gig by his old mentor and ends up heading into the Minnesota wilderness with a sexy paleontologist on behalf of a reclusive billionaire, tasked with protecting said billionaire… because they’re looking for a lake monster. Of course, there’s far more than meets the eye happening here – and Azimuth/Brown/Brnwa struggles to keep himself afloat in such treacherous waters…
The Review: So I’m just going to come right out and say it now. SPOILERS are going to be all over the place and if that’s a problem, skip your ass to the rating at the bottom. Go ahead, just skim the page all the way down and look for the bold letters. I’m not offended. Also, I’m going to be pretty fast and loose with the profanity in this review. It just feels fitting.
Alright, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s begin. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book when I heard that it was a sequel to the gritty and hyper-realistic (in that Bourne way) Beat the Reaper. I mean, it hit my radar because it was pitched as involving cryptozoology. Not exactly what you’d expect, you know? The first couple pages live up to this promise though. It’s a freaking classic horror movie opener – rather amazingly so – and so you’re in it at that point. You’re so on board and this shit is going to HAPPEN. And thus expectations are, at first, rewarded. But I’ll admit – my expectations shouldn’t've been what they were. Because this is not a cryptozoology book. This is a Pietro Brnwa book. It’s just a little weirder than the last one.
Okay, a lot weirder. You know why? Because Sarah fucking Palin shows up about a third of the way through and shit just gets weirder from there on out. The Sarah Palin thing, wisely hidden from most reviews and summaries, is the sort of thing that’s going to make or break you on this book, without a doubt. Doesn’t matter if the snappy dialogue and the badass action and the hilarious footnotes are all enough to make you weak in the knees – if you’re turned off at the idea of Palin showing up as a supporting character, then just walk away now. Because it took a sizable suspension of disbelief on my part, friends. And I like to think I’m pretty open to wild things happening. Just how open? More likely to believe in a lake monster than in Sarah Palin showing up in the midst of this crazy escapade.
That said, it’s hilarious. I mean, downright laugh-out-loud “WHAT?!” funny. Her crazy minister, the familial hanger-on (whose name Pietro never manages to get right, calling her everything from Sandisk to Frodo – and, yes, I laughed at every single wrong name), even her religious nutjobbery. Sure, it’s over the top and arguably vaguely out of line to some. But the one thing Bazell manages to do here is take the world he has established seriously, even as he doesn’t seem to quite take himself seriously. As a result, we know it isn’t the real Sarah Palin – but goddamn, it’s wild to picture her swinging a sword out on some lake while everyone is tripping on LSD. I mean, come on. Doesn’t get any better than that.
Bazell does let his wild side get the better of him a few times in this novel, though. For one thing, I almost wish SPOILERS, AGAIN, I’m just warning you that the monster had been real. It would’ve set us in a very different world that than the one we expected post-BtR but I would’ve been okay with that just because there was so much build-up to it actually being real… and plus, who doesn’t want to believe (even fictionally) in the unbelievable? He also lets his plots spread a bit far and as a result some things seem a bit superfluous. Sure, the few remaining residents of the town are making meth. Not straining credibility there – but when none of that matters in the slightest except to briefly introduce the villain (who, in the classic failing of so many thriller/mystery novels, barely makes an appearance again until the end), I found myself wondering why. I had trouble bothering to care about the various connections in the town, too. There was obviously something up with Reggie and there were murders and okay great, done, good. But the rationale for all of it, I just didn’t care. Again, I wanted the monster to be real – just so there could’ve been a payoff I cared about. Instead, I felt a little gypped at the end.
Something I wasn’t gypped by: Bazell’s voice. Strong as it was if not stronger, he’s fiercely intelligent and liberal and a smartass of the highest order. The footnotes, funny in BtR, are even better here – and I daresay I learned some things. It was fascinating to see, too, an appendix with a whole lot of climatological information (in the guise of a report from the did-I-mention-super-sexy Dr. Violet Hurst) – again with the learning. His political bias is a bit more pronounced here and while the mid-novel cockblock conversation about the environment is great and kind of hilarious in how frustrating it is, it wasn’t necessary. It felt, at times, a bit too much. Also too much: Rec Bill’s vague love interest in Violet. It was nice to see Lionel (pfft. Lionel) getting his emotions up (and I really do hope they fucked like Olympians) and letting someone in, just a little – so why throw pitfalls in the way that aren’t really necessary? Because we know he isn’t coming back. The next novel – and there will certainly be one – will undoubtedly see Bearclaw going up against the mob hardcore and it’s probably going to be the end to a trilogy. Now that I say that, by the way, I’m almost sure that’s exactly where we’re going. So why, then, waste everyone’s time with things that truly don’t matter – these flyaway plots and scenes that easily could’ve been excised to bring the book in around the length of the first one.
Of course, I was complaining about how short the first one was, so really all of my quibbling is relatively moot. Even the stunning lack of acceptable resolution wasn’t enough to bum me out – this was one good fun ride.
Rating: 4 out of 5. As mentioned, there’s a bit of a lack of resolution and it feels bloated at times… but it’s funnier, sharper, and smarter than its predecessor. It is the next evolutionary step, even as it clearly shows signs of being batshit crazy. Bazell, as far as I’m concerned, has earned carte blanche in terms of going wherever the hell he wants to go, storywise. The footnotes alone are worth the price of admission. And the LSD sequence is just ridiculous in every possible way.