A Heavenly Noir with a Potentially Hellish Problem.
You know, I’m not going to lie on how I found out about this book. I was at the local (and I use that term lightly considering it’s an hour drive away) Barnes and Noble, going through the fiction section like I usually do and found today’s book Drake: A Burned Man Novel by Peter McLean and what caught my attention was the cover of the book.
I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but with a design by Raid71 (aka Chris Thornley), it looked like it would be a great read. After reading the full length of the 314 pages of this supernatural noir novel, I have to say that while this book does have a great story, funny characters and plenty of suspense, there are a few minor problems in this book as well as one potentially huge one that kind of ruins the story. But I will discuss that later, shall we take a look at Drake?
About the Author
Peter McLean, a London born author, spent his youth going from dingy night clubs to practicing/studying martial arts and magic (as it describes on his GoodReads page) before finding a career at an incorporate datacentre outsourcing for a major American multinational company. His previous work would include the micro novel Dragonslayer released in late 2010. This novel would be the first full length novel in the Burning Man Series to be released through the publishing company Angry Robot Books, which had also published Wesley Chu’s Life of Tao series (which is a very good book series in my opinion).
The story would follow Don Drake, a hit man of a different sort, as he finds himself in debt to the demonic crime lord Wormwood after a card game (known as Fates). Knowing that Drake would not be able to pay for it, Wormwood strikes a deal with him that if he kills two business rivals of his, then he would alleviate the debt. But as he performs the hit, he mistakenly kills a five year old boy and opens a can of worms that could potentially bring about chaos and the release of vicious demons into South London.
Overall, the story is actually quite good as you grow invested in Drake’s continuing downward spiral as he struggles to more or less stay alive with twists and turns in the novel to keep you hooked. But some of the smaller problems with the story would be that some of the subplots such as the Burned Man wanting to be released stutters at points, not going to the full potential it could have been. The largest problem though that I have with this book would be with not what’s in the book, but on the back. This is what is on the back cover of the book:
Hitman Don Drake owes a gambling debt to a demon. Forced to carry out one last assassination to clear it, Don unwittingly kills an innocent child and brings the Furies of the Greek myth down upon himself.
Rescued by an almost-fallen angel called Trixie, Don and his magical accomplice, the Burned Man, an imprisoned arch-demon, are forced to battle an evil dark magician – but then Lucifer himself gets drawn into the fight.
Now Don must foil Lucifer’s plan to complete Trixie’s fall and save her soul – all the while preventing the Burned Man from breaking free from captivity and wreaking havoc on the entire world.
It’s like Midnight Riot meets Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, as all hell is let loose across the dark side of London.
It might not be easily clear, but the back of the book SPOILS THE ENTIRE BOOK. Yeah, just like that, the back of the book ruins almost the entire book’s story and lets out every single essential plot point to the story. I mean, this just seems like book writing 101, you don’t reveal the plot of your story on the cover. I’m not sure if this was the author’s decision or the cover designer’s choice, but it is a colossal screw up. For example, Lucifer in this story doesn’t actually appear in the novel until page 212 of this book and he is called Adam and with a small number of people in the novel, it could easily be said that Adam was Lucifer.
Look, I’m not saying that you should not read this book. It has an amazing story, but do yourself a favor. If you buy it whether at a store or online, don’t look at the description or the back of the book. Just cover it up with a piece of paper or something.
Kept close and intimate with a small number of characters, this book does excel at creating memorable characters that makes you invested in what happens to them. Don Drake as the burned out hitman who is just trying to survive until his next drink, is a sympathetic and likable protagonist who tries to do right despite his baser urges. The Burned Man is somewhat snarky and commandeering, but provides plenty of humor in the story, making him one of my favorite, if not, my favorite character of the novel. Trixie acts as Drake’s guardian angel and does act like it by protecting him from the Furies and Wellington, but she almost seems like an enabler at times.
Though the characters in this story that I feel were underplayed would have to be the antagonists; The Furies and Wellington Phoenix. The Furies, who want to torture Drake for killing a small child, come off less as characters and more as psychotic portrayals of old tropes. As for Wellington Phoenix, who is after Drake and Wormwood for the same reason, doesn’t have that much development. What we learn about him is through Drake’s exposition and description about him. We know that he is a stone cold killer, but we don’t know if he is sympathetic towards kids, if he has a good side, or if he is just evil. While the main characters are well developed, the antagonists could have used some work. I would also have to mention that the Hoodoo Man was underdeveloped, much to my disappointment, but perhaps he is going to have a larger role in the sequel.
The Writing Style
As aforementioned, Peter McLean’s writing style does have its ways of keeping you hooked for the entire story. With a fast pace, funny moments, thrilling action scenes and intrigue, it holds up to what makes a noir novel great. That’s really all I can say about the writing, it’s good. While some readers might not like the darker and more violent style of the book, it is still an appealing read to most.
Peter McLean’s Drake is the modern noir novel that you never knew you wanted. Despite the smaller flaws and the incredibly large one on the back of the book, I would still recommend this book to anyone who wants a good story to read over a weekend. But again, don’t look at the back cover of this book.