Written by Selina Rosen
Published by Meisha Merlin
Release date July 2006
A short while ago I reviewed several chapbooks from Yard Dog Press and was pleasantly surprised by their quality. One of them was a dark little comedy by a woman named Selina Rosen, and though it wasn’t blood and guts, it had a biting wit and a nice, somewhat creepy finish. I remarked at the time that I would enjoy seeing her talent turned to a longer work. Well, I got my wish!
Strange Robby is many things — a love story, a sci-fi tale, a murder mystery, a dark comedy — all rolled into one. Really, it’s just a good read. The book focuses on a police detective named Spider Webb (the unusual moniker was a gift from her eccentric late mother) and her partner Tommy Chan, set sometime in the not too distant future. Spider and Tommy are working one of the biggest cases in the history of Shea City. They’re on the trail of a serial killer the media has dubbed “The Fry Guy,” so named because his modus operandi involves melting his victims’ brains right out of their heads with some unknown weapon.
The thing is, Tommy and Spider aren’t really sure they want to catch this guy. The people he’s offing are not technically innocent victims but rather repeat offenders who’ve slipped through the gaping cracks in the system. Nasty customers, one and all. It’s hard for the two detectives, seasoned pros, to look too hard for a guy who’s essentially doing their job for them…only better. The Fry Guy, more commonly known to those around him as the title character, Strange Robby, isn’t your typical serial psycho. He’s got a special talent, more than one actually.
Still, with the FBI on the case too, Spider and Tommy have to go through the motions of trying to find their suspect. At the same time Tommy’s wife, Laura, who works in the DA’s office, decides to set Spider up with the ADA, Carrie Long; and the two women hit it off in a big way. Unfortunately for the happy new couple, they’ve got more problems coming their way. A new government agency, the Special Weapons Task Force (SWTF, or So-what-if to Spider and her crowd), shows up on the scene paying more attention to Spider and her preternatural abilities than to the search for The Fry Guy. They think Spider knows who the Fry Guy is (which she does), and they know how she knows too.
Spider and Robby’s distinct abilities is where the sci-fi angle comes from. I won’t give too much away, but let’s just say the government’s involved with some fishy business…as they usually are. And they’re up to no good. Rosen paints incredibly vivid pictures, and her writing is really tight. I loved these characters, not one of whom is completely perfect or infallible. Rosen populates the book with people who are good, bad, evil, and just about every shade of grey in between. People who love their families and those who love, or hate, their jobs. People who make mistakes. Real, normal people that you can identify with — even the ones who aren’t exactly “normal.” This is the real strength of the piece, along with Rosen’s razor sharp wit and sense of humor. Spider is a fabulous main character, a strong female lead, incomparable. She’s not a real girly woman, nor is she very masculine; she’s very definitely a woman, a tough cookie who doesn’t take any crap off of anyone. She’s a decorated veteran of a war, a top detective, and member of the SWAT team.
Certain elements of the story reminded me of Stephen King’s Firestarter with a secret government agency, paranormal abilities, and genetic experimentation. And if you don’t know by now what a huge King fan I am, then let me assure you that’s high praise. But Strange Robby is definitely it’s own story.
This book was not a funhouse, it was not a carnival ride. Don’t expect a roller-coaster because you won’t find it here. But it’s strong, sassy, funny, and interesting and completely unique…just like Spider. It moves along at a nice steady pace although some trimming could have been done in certain instances to spice up the flow a little. At one point, when Tommy and his wife are hiding out from the government, we spend so much time with Spider and Carrie and the other characters that you almost completely forget what’s going on with Tommy. And there’s a subplot involving a guy in coma named Henry, who tried to save Spider’s older brother Scott’s life and failed, that I felt was touching but ultimately unnecessary. Cutting that out could have trimmed a little fat.
While sometimes the weaving is loose, Rosen managed to keep track of all the intertwining threads of the tale and eventually tie them off into a neat bundle, which includes a story with a heck of a punch. I enjoyed the story quite a bit…its darkness, its humanity, and especially its humor. I laughed out loud often and well. If you’re looking for a terror train that’s jumped the tracks, out of control and zipping along at breakneck speed, then this isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for a solid story with likable characters, not to mention some intrigue and murder (people explode…it’s pretty cool) enough to sweeten the pot, I think you’ll enjoy Strange Robby. Despite some rough edges and boggy patches, it was a fun read.
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