The most dangerous relationship question: What do you want to watch?
With the possible exception of joint DIY projects or the proper temperature setting for the thermostat, I think the single biggest threat facing couples in a long-term relationship is movie night. Of course, there are a few things on which the Hub and I can agree: we avoid anything involving Morgan Freeman, Kevin Costner, or post-apocalyptic settings where children kill other children for fun and prophesy. I wanted to watch the latest romcom. He wanted to watch…almost anything else, up to and including paint drying.
Without access to more entertaining options—enhanced pharmaceuticals/weapons of mass destruction/new grandchild videos—we did what any rational couple would do. We made a bet. I got to pick the ice cream. I was the loser. He had to clean the kitchen, walk the dog, and sort the laundry. He was the winner, because he also got to pick the movie. And that’s how I met Jack Reacher, the hero of the mega-selling series by Lee Child.
Before the movie started, the Hub filled me in on a few key details, such as the fact that Reacher is a drifter who finds and obliterates bad guys wherever he lands, leaving at least a dozen corpses piled in his wake in every book. Also, he has a few…quirks. Because he doesn’t want anything to tie him down, his only possession is a folding toothbrush. Every few days, he buys an entirely new set of clothing and throws away what he’s been wearing.
ME: He has no deodorant?
HUB: Well, he takes lots of showers.
ME: So he fights a bunch of guys to the death, hops in the shower, and then just puts his dirty underwear back on?
HUB: We don’t know that for sure. He certainly has no trouble getting beautiful women.
ME: These women want to be with a stinky serial killer who wears dirty underwear?
HUB: Lee Child has sold over 100 million Jack Reacher books. His readers are dedicated fans who will pay any price asked for the latest release. Forbes called him “the strongest brand in publishing”.
ME: [I got nothing.]
As I watched the movie (in which the 6’5″ 200-pound Reacher is played by Tom Cruise, taking ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ to new heights), I tried to figure out what inspires a level of reader loyalty that’s made the author a millionaire many times over.
I’ve often heard thriller series of the Lee Child or Elmore Leonard persuasion being compared to classic Westerns. But are they? Both genres are ultimately about what’s fair or even right. Usually the hero is an outsider, someone who steps outside of the law or the norm, and who might be out to protect or defend what’s right, even if it means using violence to achieve their goals.
In the trope-defining 1953 western Shane, the hero is focused on establishing law and order, but rides into the sunset at the end because he has no place in the civilized landscape he’s made possible.
Newer examples of the genre may claim an anti-hero such as Clint Eastwood in…well, every Clint Eastwood movie. But in fact, the hero’s job is still to pursue that goal of a fair, law-and-order world, even if it’s one in which they ultimately will never belong.
But in thrillers such as those by Leonard and Child—not to mention Robert Ludlum, who continues to publish best-sellers despite being, technically, dead—I think the goal is exactly the opposite. The hero is still a loner, looking wistfully in on but never part of a world of close relationships with family and friends. Only now the world has too much law and too much order. In order to protect or defend, the hero has to react against those forces. Enemies aren’t law-defying outlaws in black hats, but suit-wearing bankers and government agents and (of course) lawyers. The hero is now the outlaw, whose role has gone from protecting the weak against forces that challenge the rule of law to revenge against those same forces when they threaten the weak.
“Someone does a very bad thing, and Reacher takes revenge.”
— Lee Child
In a world controlled at every step by the structures and restrictions we’ve built but don’t control, there is something infinitely appealing about having a really big, really strong character (sorry, Tom Cruise!) who cheerfully gives a face to and then beats the tar out of our scariest nightmares. I just wish he would then put on deodorant and clean underwear before I lose another movie night bet.
Or, if I get really lucky, they’ll make a movie out of the latest book from one of my new favorite writers, Matt Kincade. Hell Night has something for each of us: a charismatic antihero who wanders around killing the worst of the worst—while keeping a change of clothes at hand. Humor, snark, zombies, a katana AND clean underwear? Movie night would never be the same.
Hell Night (Alex Rains, Vampire Hunter Book 2) by Matt Kincade
It’s sunny with a chance of apocalypse in HELL NIGHT, Matt Kincade’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to THE DEVIL’S MOUTH.
ALEX RAINS knows all about hunting vampires—after all, that’s his job, and he’s the best at what he does. But when he follows a lead to the tiny desert town of Prosperity, Nevada, Alex quickly learns that vampires aren’t the only things that go bump in the night. He’s just as surprised as the town’s residents when the dead start walking the streets of Prosperity . . . and they’ve got a bit of an appetite. Together with a ragtag group of survivors, Alex will have to dodge undead horrors and small-town drama as he digs into Prosperity’s darkest secrets and macabre Wild West heritage to figure out why the dead aren’t staying dead, discover what–or who–is responsible, and put a stop to it . . . before the whole mess gets out of hand. After dealing with the undead in Prosperity, Alex Rains is going to have to update his resume.
With HELL NIGHT, Kincade once again delivers fast-paced, gritty pulp action, engaging characters, and delightfully grim humor.
Book Title: Hell Night (Alex Rains, Vampire Hunter Book 2)
Author: Matt Kincade
Genre: Action-Horror Thriller
Length: 356 pages
Release Date: March 20, 2017
Contact and Buy Links:
My Review: 5 stars out of 5 for Hell Night (Alex Rains, Vampire Hunter Book 2) by Matt Kincade
He’s back. Alex Rains, antihero of The Devil’s Mouth—the best “horrifying, romantic, tragic, comic, SciFi cowboy detective novel” I’ve ever read—is even more badass, vulnerable, funny, and deadpan snarky than ever. He’s in Las Vegas, mixing a bit of
katana-slashing vampire suishi business with a plan to take a vacation pilgrimage to Vegas kitsch and Elvis memories. Until, that is, his (friend? contact? handler?) Cooper sends him to a dying desert town with an ancient photo of a very young Elvis, and a story about a woman who wouldn’t stay dead.
What he finds is Prosperity, the “postcard picture, circa 1955” town left behind when the freeway and the last half-century passed them by. Prosperity has some excellent examples of mid-century commercial architecture, a bar where Elvis played, and a growing number of very recently-deceased citizens with an unhealthy interest in snacking on their living neighbors.
As the body count rises, Alex and the handful of living survivors band together to try to outwait the events of Hell Night. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that these zombies are not your usual shuffling mindless brainzzzz-noshing garden-variety walking dead. Instead, they show a disturbing ability to reason and plan—unless they are actually being controlled by one of the members of Alex’s group of survivors.
In my review of The Devil’s Mouth, the first book of this series, I noted that it contained tropes from horror thrillers and from classic westerns. I also noted that I don’t like horror stories. Or westerns. As I stayed up all night racing tearing through this fabulous mashup, however, I wished I could have given more than five stars. I had the same reaction to Hell Night, only this time the mashup genres were more Jack Reacher meets zombies.
Some of my favorite tropes from the Jack Reacher genre (and let’s face it—he practically IS his own genre!) are re-interpreted in Hell Night:
- Busman’s holiday: Although professional vampire killer Alex just wants a few days of vacation to unwind after the grisly events of Book 1, he soon realizes, “…it’s startin’ to look like I gotta update my resume.” Zombies needed re-killing. Lots.
- Creds: Jack Reacher is constantly reminding us of his military police background, while Alex matter-of-factly refers to his vampire-fighting experience, which some might make the mistake of thinking glamorous.
“Oh, man,” said Josh. “Are you serious? A vampire hunter? Like, real vampires? That sounds so cool. Do you have, like, superpowers? How do you get to be a vampire hunter?”
Alex pondered the question. “Well, mostly, folks get into the business after they have everything they ever loved in their life taken away, everything what gives ’em meaning or joy, leaving ’em a hollow, burnt-out shell of a human being, with nothin’ to sustain ’em but the thought of revenge.”
Josh looked crestfallen. “Oh. I was thinking, like, a trade school or something.”
- No such thing as coincidence: Just as Jack Reacher always just happens to stumble on very bad people doing even worse things, Alex’s vacation puts the one person who can stop the apocalypse right at ground zero. Only where Reacher is wearing 3-day-old clothing and carrying nothing but a folding toothbrush, Alex is styling it—“You mean to tell me you’re cruising through the desert in a classic hot rod, wearing a cowboy hat, a Hawaiian shirt, aviators, and snakeskin boots…”
- Every car is a Pinto: Face it. These are thrillers, so cars will explode, especially if someone shoots into their tank. Who doesn’t love a car turning into a giant fireball? It’s probably required in the fine print of any future screenplays. So it would be quite petty of me to point out the MythBuster episode that debunks that notion. After all, if the walking dead can shuffle around eating brainzzz, and (even more amazing) if Jack Reacher can get women to have sex with a stinky drifter who hasn’t changed his underwear in days, exploding cars really just require a teensy willing suspension of disbelief.
- All hail to the Snark. Reacher is very good at this one. “Spread love and understanding,” Reacher said. “Use force if necessary.”(― Lee Child, Never Go Back). From the perfectly chosen lead-in quotes, Hell Night is all deadpan snark.
Buffy: Who Don't I just put a stake through her heart? Giles: She's not a vampire. Buffy: Yeah, well, you'd be surprised how many things that'll kill. —Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Big Damn Heroes: As every thriller knows, it’s not just about saving the day. You have to save it in the last possible nick of time. With that last bullet you’ve been saving for that very thing. It’s just your job.
- Not all that nice: As both Jack Reacher and Alex remind constantly, they may be knee-jerk good, but they’re just not particularly nice.
She stared him down and whispered, "I don't usually like to fu*k nice guys." Alex leaned back in his chair. "Well, I ain't that awful nice. Sometimes I'm a right asshole."
- High functioning sociopath: The pile of corpses that Jack Reacher leaves in his wake makes him a serial killer by any estimate. Alex Rains knows that his targets are for the most part only former humans, but you don’t get to be an evil overlord without employing a lot of henchpersons, and both Jack Reacher and Alex Rains mow through henchfolk like a hot katana through butter.
Harbaugh said, “I always was too damned righteous for my own good. If I could have just learned to look the other way and ignore things, I’d probably be the police commissioner of Las Vegas by now.” He sighed again, jammed the last of his candy bar into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. “You’re right, though. I had the wrong idea about you.”
Alex shrugged. “Well, I am a stone killer. You wasn’t wrong about that. But there’s some things in this world what need killin’.”
- Girl du jour: You can’t be the wandering knight errant who crosses the country righting wrongs and protecting the innocent if you have to pay for UPPAbaby Cruz strollers, worry about getting VampKiller Jr. into the right preschool, or save up for the kids’ braces. And it’s really hard to maintain street cred if you drive a minivan and vacation at Disney. So these series books are never about the Happily-Ever-After, or even the Happily-After-This-Week. Luckily (and surely this can’t have a thing to do with being written by a man) both Jack Reacher and Alex Rains have no trouble getting beautiful women to sleep with them and then move on. It is a fantasy, remember?
She took his hat off and set it on the roof next to him. “It’s the end of the world cowboy. Don’t read too much into it. Just relax.”
Then of course, there are all the zombie tropes. Author Matt Kincade basically makes a list of each one and crosses them off even as he subverts them. How do his characters learn about zombies? From the teenage fan of zombie movies, of course. What happens when their zombies go off-Hollywood-script? The survivors realize not only that My Zombies are Different, but that one of their own number is responsible for the Apocalypse.
Hell Night is violent, bloody, funny, touching, profane, and occasionally icky. One of the appeals of characters facing a major change in everything and almost everyone they’ve ever known is the chance to see who will step up, find the courage to fight a seemingly undefeatable enemy, and step outside of their pre-apocalyptic roles. Of course, with people dying so quickly, there is very little chance of character development. But the teenage couple are convincing as they take fragile first steps toward love. The older survivors show their true natures—both heroic and cowardly—while the evil overlord is suitably difficult to kill despite ever more gory attempts.
So while I still hate horror movies, I wouldn’t hesitate to give Hell Night an unqualified 5 stars. (And with all those severed body parts lying around, several bloody thumbs up as well.)
*I received this book from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.