The Wrong Dead Guy: The crispest comic dialogue I’ve read in a long, long time

The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey fantasy book reviewsThe Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey fantasy book reviewsThe Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey

Even if Richard Kadrey’s The Wrong Dead Guy (2017) didn’t have an elephant, a library and a grumpy mummy, I would love it for the comedic dialogue. This book has some of the crispest comic dialogue (not just banter) I’ve read in a very long time, maybe ever.

The Wrong Dead Guy is the second book in Kadrey’s ANOTHER COOP HEIST series. Cooper, who goes by Coop, is a thief specializing in magical items. He is immune to magic, which also means that he cannot wield it. His girlfriend Giselle, who works for the Department of Peculiar Science (DOPS), does use magic though, and sometimes Coop works with a ghost named Phil, who rides in Coop’s head during the heist.

Right now, Coop is reluctantly working for the DOPS himself, and gets an assignment to steal an Egyptian mummy from a down-at-the-heels museum. Little does he know that a hapless security guard eating a burger on shift has accidentally freed said mummy, in what is possibly the best use of mustard in a horror-comedy. Harkhuf, the mummy, was a powerful magician and wishes to reanimate his girlfriend. This part of the story may seem familiar, but the girlfriend mummy was no fragile princess; rather, a badass battle-queen whose greatest wish was to drown the world in fire and blood. Harkhuf thinks this will be a fine thing to do.

Coop, meanwhile, has been targeted by his nemesis, Nelson. Nelson is dead and currently works in the mailroom at DOPS. (Just go with it.) Nelson blames Coop for his death, and hopes to kill Coop so that Coop, as an undead or “mook,” will be assigned to the mailroom. Nelson creates one Machiavellian plan after another, and they really are Machiavellian, except he has to rely on the hired help, and that’s a challenge.

With the Department of Peculiar Science, the book feels a bit like the LAUNDRY FILES series by Charles Stross, with a definite Los Angeles flavor. That is a good thing. Mostly, though, The Wrong Dead Guy, like The Everything Box, felt like a madcap movie heist comedy, in all the best ways: snappy banter, hilarious visuals and sight gags, with likeable characters at the heart of it. Kadrey demonstrated his eye for the absurd in the SANDMAN SLIM books, but those books have a darker tone. With Coop, who is a less complicated and generally happier guy than James Stark, Kadrey lets his absurdist self off the leash. There is a magical library unlike the ones we’ve seen before. There is an elephant. There are animal-rights activists who live in a gated community, and they have some of the funniest dialogue ever as they try to speak without being “speciest.” There is a used car salesman emblematic of southern California. There is the grumpy mummy Harkhuf who is not pleased with the quality of thrall he is, well, enthralling in the modern age. I’m not even going to describe Coop’s helper, the Egyptologist Dr. Lupinsky, because when you read the book you deserve that have that pleasure unspoiled. And Kadrey gets maximum — maximum — mileage about of four words: Macho Taco Guy Lombardo.

Because of the mosaic style of storytelling, which relies on shifting points of view, I did think the story lost momentum in a few places. I’m not sure a long adventure in one of the wings of the DOPS facility delivered enough plot for its length. The story did not come together quite as smoothly as The Everything Box did, but I was still laughing and cringing most of the way through, which is what I expect to be doing through a Coop novel. I love that I can open this book to nearly any page and read a passage of dialogue that will make me laugh out loud. The Wrong Dead Guy is pure entertainment.

Published February 28, 2017. In this fast paced sequel to The Everything Box—the second entry in New York Times bestselling author Richard Kadrey’s comedic supernatural series—chaos ensues when Coop and the team at DOPS steal a not-quite-dead and very lovesick ancient Egyptian mummy wielding some terrifying magic. Coop, a master thief sort of gone legit, saved the world from an ancient doomsday device—heroism that earned him a gig working for the Department of Peculiar Science, a fearsome top secret government agency that polices the odd and strange. Now Woolrich, Coop’s boss at the DOPS, has Coop breaking into a traveling antiquities show to steal a sarcophagus containing the mummy of a powerful Egyptian wizard named Harkhuf. With the help of his pals Morty, Giselle, and a professor that’s half-cat, half-robotic octopus, Coop pulls off the heist without a hitch. It’s not Coop’s fault that when DOPS opened the sarcophagus they didn’t find the mummy they were expecting. Well, it was the right mummy, but it wasn’t exactly dead—and now it’s escaped, using a type of magic the organization hasn’t encountered before. Being a boss, Woolrich blames his underling for the screw up and wants Coop to find the missing Harkhuf and make it right, pronto. Digging into Harkhuf’s history, Coop thinks the mummy is hunting for an ancient magical manuscript that will help him bring his old lover back to life. Which wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t a warrior sorceress hell-bent on conquering the world with her undead armies. Coop would very much like to run from the oncoming chaos. It’s one thing to steal a mummy, but another to have to deal with head-hunting bureaucrats, down-on-their luck fortune tellers, undead mailroom clerks, and a rather unimpressed elephant. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to run. If he wants the madness to stop, he’s going to have to suck it up and play hero one more time. But if Coop manages to save the world AGAIN, he’s definitely going to want a lot of answers. And a raise.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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One comment

  1. Good humor is hard to find in speculative fiction, and that’s a shame!

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