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Book Review- “City of the Lost”

You’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but there’s no denying that a good cover is a sure fire attention getter. Stephen Blackmoore must understand this, which is why his first novel “City of the Lost” has a great cover. It’s done by one of my favorite comic artists working today, Sean Phillips. It features a bad ass looking guy with a smoking hole in his chest who is smoking a cigarette on an ominous, but sun drenched LA street. Fans of Phillips work with Ed Brubaker on the current horror-crime comic “Fatale” know that the artist is a master of noir scenes, but he’s also got a great command of the weird and horrific. So that great cover hooked me. I picked up “City of the Lost” and read the synopsis on the back. Those two things combined sealed the deal; I was in.

I’m glad I was too. Crime and horror stories go together like peanut butter and chocolate and “City of the Lost” is a really good crime and horror tale with bits of dark fantasy added for flavor. The protagonist of the book, Joe Sunday, is a leg breaker and enforcer for a low level mobster in Los Angeles. He gets pushed head first into the deep end of the supernatural pool when his boss tasks him with killing a mysterious old man. That’s because Joe’s assassination attempt fails and when he wakes up he discovers that he’s become a unique type of undead with some useful abilities and unhealthy appetites. Joe then has to use his new abilities to navigate the supernatural and criminal underworlds of LA and find a mysterious magical Macguffin that could keep him from falling apart. Of course standing in his way are a strange collection of foes and potential friends.

Joe’s journey is a fun and compelling one partly because he’s such a fascinating character himself. He may be interacting with magic and the trappings of a fantasy story, but he’s definitely not your typical noble fantasy hero. Make no mistake about it Joe is violent, killer. He’s more anti-hero than hero, and because the book is told first person Joe himself reminds you of that on several occasions as he regales you with the things he’s done to people in the past and the things he does to his enemies in “City of the Lost.” He also has enough of an everyman streak in him though that you can identify with and root for him even if there are times you’re not necessarily sure you should. That makes Joe a fascinating and complex character.

Blackmoore then bounces Joe off an eclectic cast of intriguing characters, both mundane and fantastic. They include include a cop haunted by the death of his brother; A Nazi wizard and his thugs, one of which is a razor toothed midget; a social worker turned witch; a mysterious femme fatale; and the main villain of the piece a seemingly immortal wizard.

The presence of wizards and witches means magic is a big part of the setting in “City of the Lost,” and Blackmoore offers up a quick, interesting, and easy to understand explanation of how it works. Spells and rituals can’t be cast willy, nilly. There’s a price that has to be paid and the more powerful the spell the higher the price, not just for the caster, but for all things magical in the area. It creates an interesting ripple effect.

That ripple effect sets up a brutal, bloody, and exciting climax, and that climax is put into motion by a cool collection of action, horror, and classic crime noir moments. Tone wise “City of the Lost” feels like a lot of what I loved about Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt series of novels in that involves a brutal, violent, and supernaturally gifted character enduring and dishing out punishment in the name of revenge and a type of justice. The presence of wizards and other monsters also feels like Blackmoore has dipped into another series I loved, Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels. It’s a potent, powerful, and fun combination.

So the interior of “City of the Lost” ended up being just as great as it’s cover. Best of all this appears to be the first book in a series. So I look forward to taking another trip down L.A.’s mean, sun drenched, and monster haunted streets with Joe Sunday

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