Mookie Pearl is a big ugly brute who works for the boss of New York City’s criminal underworld. Mostly he’s called on to be a thug — it’s the thing he does best. One of his specific jobs is to manage (i.e., cajole, threaten, beat up) a team of workers who descend into the underground to collect the blue powdery drug that allows its users to see the supernatural creatures who have lived among us ever since some New York City miners accidentally blew open a portal to Hell while tunneling under the streets.
Things are never really safe in Mookie’s line of work, but everything suddenly comes to a head when the boss announces that he’s dying and leaving his son Casimir in charge of his criminal empire. When all the gangs in the city sense an imminent power void, and when his own immature teenage daughter makes a play designed to get revenge on the daddy who was never there for her, Mookie’s normally dangerous life gets even deadlier.
Even though he’s a big scary thug, you just can’t help but love Mookie Pearl. He’s got a soft spot for his daughter, his ex-wife and his friends, and he’ll absolutely melt over a plate of perfectly executed charcuterie. You get the feeling that in another world Mookie might have made a good accountant or IT technician if, because of his size, he hadn’t caught the eye of a crime boss. You get the feeling that Mookie regrets what he’s become and realizes it was all his own fault. I was surprised to find myself rooting for Mookie, even against his own daughter. Wendig also made me care for some of his other colorful characters, particularly Mookie’s lesbian butcher and a gang of 1980’s style roller derby girls. Nora, Mookie’s daughter, is a little too emo, but this works well with the story and I’m guessing that she’ll be more tolerable in future installments of the MOOKIE PEARL series.
I tend to enjoy stories that are set underground, so it’s not surprising that I found Wendig’s supernatural world fun to explore. The portal-to-hell device is certainly not original, but it’s still fun, especially when it’s located directly under the streets of New York City where evil monsters can find their way to the surface. Necessary information about the underworld is relayed with chapter-opening journal entries written by a deceased “cartographer” of the underworld. This serves to keep Mookie’s story moving quickly. At a couple of points the plot goes a little over-the-top, bordering on farcical, but Wendig always brings it back under control.
What I liked best about The Blue Blazes was Chuck Wendig’s writing style. His sentences are short and razor sharp, his imagery is vivid, his dialogue is spot-on, his occasional use of humor is pleasing, and he writes the most wonderful metaphors and similes. I actually heard myself sigh in pleasure at a couple of his gruesome similes, just like Mookie moaning over his charcuterie. Here’s what Mookie sees when, under the influence of the Blue Blazes, he visits Mr. Smiley:
What he sees instead, what the Blue Blazes shows him, is a man whose face is a nearly perfect mix of serpent and human… The eyes are wide coppery diamonds whose irises shift and warp like you’re staring through a child’s kaleidoscope. The mouth, still smiling for he is always oh, so very happy, ill conceals not just a pair of curved fangs but rather a whole maw of them. A wet pink tongue, not forked but thin and prehensile, slides over them like a slug over piano keys.
That’s so bad it’s good!
The Blue Blazes is fast-moving, violent, and dark, but Wendig’s style and the feeling that Mookie Pearl might really be a softie gives this novel a spark that makes it feel less grim than it is. I listened to Patrick Lawlor read the audio version produced by Brilliance Audio. This was a great way to read The Blue Blazes and I look forward to listening to the second MOOKIE PEARL book, too.