Title: Deadly Serious
Author: A. J. Thibault
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Dan Goodis spends his evenings hustling as a stand-up comic and his days riffing on his material when he inadvertently stumbles across Prof. Aleksandr Vasinoff, a ground-breaking physicist now living as a hermit, who hands Dan a briefcase shortly before being brutally murdered…
Deadly Serious opens in Connecticut, November 1990 at the Goodis Family Wintercove Estate. It’s an intriguing beginning with more than enough unanswered questions to hook the reader. The prose is precise, the wintry landscape bitterly realized, and the dying black swan is a compelling motif.
The introduction of two interestingly ruthless characters, Suvorov and Arkin, and the obvious fact that the main character, Dan Goodis, is clearly in all sorts of trouble also stimulates reader curiosity.
Following the opening chapter, the reader is taken back to Los Angeles, 1980 and down a rabbit hole of bizarre events, coincidences, and conspiracies. All of which are liberally peppered with absurdity and dark humor.
Nothing or no-one is as they first appear, and in parts, the reader does begin to wonder if the joke is on them as the narrative ground moves again, exposing evermore imaginative twists and outlandish reveals.
Deadly Serious is essentially a psychological thriller, as the author describes. Nonetheless, it draws on elements of espionage, spoof, satire, romance, and even a touch of science fiction with the re-aminating cloned hitman, “the Cuban” and, for the most part, blends these genre components successfully.
Protagonist Dan Goodis has a wealthy background and comes across as entitled and somewhat unlikeable, albeit amusing with a clear, shrewd intelligence.
Although his comedy exploits give him purpose, Dan is riddled by self-doubt and vulnerability, which is amplified when he and those around him are increasingly drawn into a tangled web of frenetic farce, codebreaking, and deception.
He does suffer with a lack of empathy and sympathy to his environment and boorish, juvenile behavior. This is intentional, but it occasionally causes a disconnect with the reader that the humor cannot always mask.
Notwithstanding, he begins to develop toward the end of the novel when he shifts into a register that is more authentically personal. This maturity results in some deceptively profound and searching passages amidst the dark comedy.
The arrival of his girlfriend, Lauren, places their romance at the forefront of the novel for quite a while. She is deliberately portrayed as being rather superficial, and yet she is actually a complex character, and their relationship is equally complicated.
However, there is an over-reliance on her unstable behavior and Dan’s constant deadpan introspection, which makes the scenes between them overly-long. The writing is also dialogue-heavy during their time together. It reads more like a screenplay which does slightly detach the reader on an emotional level.
Nonetheless, the majority of the prose in Deadly Serious is beautifully succinct with sharp sentences full of wry observation. Dan’s bursts of mental gunfire are delivered in a rapid, staccato style, the book is well-structured, and, overall, the plot maintains consistency and credibility. This is no mean feat as Deadly Serious is unashamedly far-fetched, at times.
There are also some wonderfully authentic and seedy portrayals among the supporting cast. Dr. Arnold Pizzenbaum is sleazily awful and, although briefly featured, Aleksandr Vasinoff is well-depicted as the enigmatic hermit/prophet whose actions drive the plot, and his hovel is disgustingly realistic.
Deadly Serious is a wildly inventive and original novel. Ambitious with flashes of brilliance, the novel capably straddles several genres and takes the reader on an unconventional, yet exhilarating, ride while doing so.
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