This is probably not where I should have started, to be honest, but this is the one that they sent so this is the one I'm reviewing. 'Dr. DOA' is book ten in Simon R. Green's 'Secret Histories' and it's likely that this series ties into at least one other series in his burgeoning bibliography. If I'm reading it right, he has knocked out no fewer than forty-three novels in this millennium alone, which means a couple per year, come rain come shine. He's a prolific author and one prone to series. I wrote down "What is the Nightside?" a couple of times in my notes for this book. Well, it's another series, with all of its twelve volumes released before this one was written. So no, not where I should have started.
What I found was a lot of good and, potentially, a lot of bad; depending on your personal preferences. It did make sense to me, new reader starting on the tenth book in a series, but there's also a lot that I'm pretty sure would make more sense to me had I read the prior nine first. More specifically, this is what feels rather like an episode in a long season. It has its own story, which it starts and finishes, at least kinda-sorta, but it also clearly plays its part in a wider story arc that I can only guess at from my newbie perspective.
So, let me attempt to do this justice. The lead is Eddie Drood, surely the first pop culture nod, though I haven't read Charles Dickens's final novel, which he never finished anyway, so I don't know how much I should imagine just from that name. Eddie is one of many Droods, because that's both a family and a timeworn espionage agency, the people you call when aliens invade or the supernatural shows up or any of the other wild and wonderful scenarios you might conjure up to throw at an espionage agency that's so old it helped King Arthur defeat Morgan le Fay.
He apparently doesn't like his family or working with his family or whatever. He certainly doesn't like killing people, though he's done plenty of that in the past, when the world needed saving. But they're calling him back in anyway. On Christmas Day. From his holiday in a stone cottage in the woods that's actually inside his room at Drood Hall. Yes, there are pop culture nods everywhere in this book, if not total lifts from others. Maybe his middle name is Zarniwoop. "This cat’s on an intergalactic cruise in his office?" "Listen three-eyes, don’t try to out weird me, I get stranger things than you free with my breakfast cereal!"
Apparently, there's a company called Cassandra, Inc., something I'm sure Ron Goulart must have put in one of his novels, that tells the future for a fee to bad guys anywhere. Including where the Droods will be at any particular point in time. Needless to say, they send Eddie onto their floating HQ to take the place over or shut it down completely, whichever seems most appropriate after he figures out the secret that enables their business model. He takes his destructive girlfriend Molly Metcalf along for the ride, whose past history I'm not privy to, as I haven't read the first nine books, but which sounds a lot like Angelina's in the Stainless Steel Rat series. Let's just state that she used to be a supernatural terrorist. Of course they win the day and that's our prologue.
But, after Eddie teleports back to Drood Hall and promptly faints, we get into the meat of the novel. As the title might suggest, he's been murdered and now has to figure out whodunit. We're suddenly in film noir territory and, while that concept is taken from the 1950 classic 'D.O.A.', the book unfolds a lot more like 'The Big Sleep', from a few years earlier, in that there really isn't any attempt given to a structured plot, just a protagonist poking around where he can to see which hornet's nest will stir up and give him a lead. Eventually they get to the answer, but not at all because of how they go about it.
I'm sure that I've just painted the picture of a sprawling derivative mess and, while that isn't entirely untrue, this does work as a series of wild adventures. If the book is one episode in a full season, it's in the form of a 'Doctor Who' story, broken up into a few episodes of its own. And each of them, taken in isolation, is notable and some of them are truly glorious. I haven't got to 'Harvey' yet or 'The Maltese Falcon' or 'Jason and the Argonauts', let alone the numerous nods to James Bond, but they're here in recognisable form among others. Also here, however, are a whole host of original creations that are a joy to behold.
The whole Cassandra, Inc. sequence is a bundle of fun, but I liked the Peter Paul Clinic even more. That name exists for a reason but, if you don't figure out what, I'm not going to explain. It's a gem. I loved Under the Mountain, where the Survivors wage war on death, even while one of them has embarked on a mysterious killing spree, one that they have to ask Eddie to help them stop. The Deep Down Pit is fun too, but what I adored the most was the Wulfshead Club.
There's a twenty-page section roughly in the middle of this book that's utterly irresistible and it goes down at the Wulfshead Club, an establishment non-pareil that's absolutely jam-packed full of weirdly wonderful characters. "The Wulfshead is where the weird people go; the heroes and the villains, the living and the dead, and all the others stuck somewhere in between."
Frankly, I don't have to tell you anything at all about any of them beyond their names and you'll still get a glimpse of why you and I would both dearly love to be regulars. There's Persecution Psmith and Monkton Farley and the Midnight Masque. There's Harry Fabulous and Django Westphalian and the Roaring Boys. You can drink "Succubae's Tears, Muse's Breath, and Quetzalcoatl's Revenge. None of which are trade names." It's my kind of place and I wanted a lot more than twenty magical pages.
However, we have to move on and we do and we end up where we end up and that's that. Well, sort of. The ending isn't an ending so much as it's a cliffhanger to kick off book eleven, which is 'Moonbreaker' and will surely play up the James Bond theme even more. Most of the books in this series have James Bond spoof names. It began with 'The Man with the Golden Torc' and moved on through 'Daemons are Forever', 'The Spy Who Haunted Me' and 'From Hell with Love'. Given Green's penchant for venues, I'd want to dive into this series just to see what happens when we get to 'Casino Infernale'.
As a novel, this isn't all that and a bag of chips, but then, as I mentioned, book ten was never going to be the best place to start a series. I wouldn't want to judge the other volumes on my impressions of a ninth sequel, except to underline that it works rather well as a braindump of imagination. I could spill a dozen author names right now out of the top of my head who can't fit this much imagination into an entire twelve book series. Green churns it all out in one and I'd bet there's just as much in book eight and book nine, let alone the earliest books in the series when the 'Secret Histories' were fresh and an author could really run hog wild.
At the end of the day, I didn't turn the last page burning to leap into this series, but I'll certainly keep my eyes open next time I wander through the Nightside, wherever that happens to be, for a shelf full of Simon R. Green novels for me to trade for a bag of magic beans and dive into one of these moons. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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