Have you ever wished to experience a story involving the New York Mafia and their unholy alliance with the Lovecraftian monsters that live below the city? Well, you could drink an entire bottle of absinthe while watching Goodfellas and reading The Shadow Over Innsmouth…or you save yourself the hangover/hospital bill and read one of my favorite novels ever, Blue Blazes.
Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig
Mookie Pearl is a simple man who is lot of things:
A mountain of old muscle and hard bones.
A gentle soul inside a brutal killer’s body.
A charcuterie connoisseur.
And most importantly, a father.
He’s also an enforcer/fixer for the mob (or The Organization, as they’re called here) in New York City. As if that type of job wasn’t dangerous enough, the city’s sandhogs have somehow managed to dig all the way into the literal underworld, unleashing a host of hellish creatures upon the surface—if you can see them.
Doing so requires a cerulean powder called the blue blazes. Rubbing it on your temples provides a brief (and extremely powerful) adrenaline kick along with the ability to see the many demons and beasties hiding among us. In Mookie’s case, it also allows him to properly negotiate and/or kick their asses.
After striking an uneasy alliance with their downstairs neighbors, The Organization has made good money off harvesting and selling the occult pigment. They, in turn, have provided Mookie with a steady paycheck, which is all he seems to really want out of life.
That all changes when The Organization’s leader declares that he has terminal cancer. Ever the loyal company man, Mookie plans to do all he can to keep an all out gang war from erupting—even if that means searching the underworld to find a cure for his boss. Unfortunately, his mission becomes a hell of a lot more complicated when his wayward daughter Nora enters the fray—and makes her own play for the throne.
So, so much.
That joke I made early about Godfellas and Lovecraft wasn’t just me be facetious. If you like organized crime stories, then you’ll definitely get your fill of mob politics, unexpected backstabbing, and blazing shootouts. But packed in with all that good stuff are vicious goblins, humanoid snakes, ethereal demons, roller-skate gangs, motorcycle chases, giant god-worms, and a battle/trip inside the actual depths of hell.
What makes it even better is Mookie, who might be the most loveable badass ever. The guy may be exceptionally good at his dirty, but he’s also got a genuine soul. Think Tom Hanks’ character in Road to Perdition (Michael Sullivan), but with half the brain and ten times the muscle.
Nora, on the other hand, is not like Michael’s kids at all. She is cunning, ruthless, and a force of nature in her own right.
Wendig ruthlessly (and masterfully) puts Mookie through the ringer, torturing him with betrayal and conflict on all sides. He also writes some insanely good action sequences, all of which relentlessly drive the narrative toward a breath-taking and unexpected finish.
What Doesn’t Work
There’s a change in one of the characters that feels like it could have used a little more time to cook. I won’t give it away here, but I’m sure you’ll know who I’m talking about once you get to the end of the book. I’m also sure it won’t really matter that much—the cast of Blue Blazes is generally about as well fleshed out as you could ask for.
Is it Good?
Mookie, monsters, and the mob. What’s not to like?
In all seriousness, I’m probably underselling just how good Blue Blazes‘ story is. But even this brief review gives away a little too much. Mookie’s destructive path is guided by a twisting, immersive narrative that refuses to let you place a bookmark and walk away. There’s also a truckload of world building and fantastic characters to explore.
Do yourself a favor and put the absinthe back in the cupboard. Reading Blue Blazes is guaranteed to be one of the best trips you could ever take.