Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Thomas Tessier
Published by Leisure Books
There’s really nothing like a good story, one with mystery and intrigue, strange deaths, and seemingly random occurrences that all make some form of sense when the big climax is reached and the mystery is solved. But let me tell you; it really sucks when a story has all of the above and then never tells you anything. That’s just plain frustrating.
Indeed, when I finished the main story of this book (which also includes the far superior short story “Scrambug, USA”; more on that later), I really wanted to just chuck the book across the room and demand my invested time back. I mean literally, the story just ends, and with a very lame final line, too. I was pissed.
So Wicked Things is about an independent insurance investigator named Jack Carlson who is given the task of heading to the small town of Winship to find out if the accidental deaths of six of the town’s residents in a short span of time were truly accidents. Seems the insurance companies have raised an eyebrow or two since one agent brokered all the life insurance plans, though six different companies issued the policies. I know, what a riveting basis for a plot, eh?
In actuality I did find it pretty interesting and wanted to see what this guy could dig up to discover the truth. Unfortunately, that whole line of plot was slowly moved aside as Jack discovers more secrets about the town, key witnesses begin dying left and right, and seemingly every woman he has sex with while on this short vacation (which is a lot more than you’d think) either die or double cross him.
All of which wouldn’t be necessarily bad, either, if any of it made any sense. He finds out about a secret society known as the Order of St. Michael, which apparently owns a bit of everything in the town, but never finds out exactly what they do or who they are. Indeed, up until the final few pages author Tessier still makes you believe he’s going to explain, if not all then some of it, but it just never happens. And all that does for me, as a reader (aside from making me want to chuck the book), is make everything that happened leading up to the “climax” a waste of my time.
Wicked Things is one of those books where you just keep waiting for something to happen, but when even really weird things do go on, the characters seem to blow them off almost immediately afterwards. So what might seem like a significant plot maneuver actually just comes across as Tessier going “Oh, shit, nothing’s happened in a few dozen pages, better throw something in here. It just comes across, at the end of the day, as lazy. Like a basic outline was made for the story but never fleshed out from there.
However, there is a bit of shining light in this book, namely the short story “Scramburg, USA”. Like I said before,it’s a far superior tale with a really solid final line that thankfully ends the book on a high note but doesn’t necessarily make up for what came before it.
In “Scramburg” a local minister of the small town of Schramburg goes for help from the local police Captain, telling him that his adopted son, Howie, has gone beyond the point of simple juvenile delinquency and into physical violence, even going so far as to beat up his own adopted mother. Now that Howie’s 18 the Captain can get him out of town and make sure he never comes back. He won’t have scum like that in his town, and who could blame him?
So after driving Howie to a remote location and beating the shit out of him, the Captain informs him he’s not to come back to Schramburg ever again, or he will be arrested. Howie, being the delinquent that he is, does the exact opposite, sneaking back into town and causing all sorts of mayhem with his friends, though staying out of sight the whole time. When the good Captain finally catches up to him, things go bad very quickly, and pretty soon there’s a bit more work for the local scavengers to take care of. But not even the long cold rest is enough to keep Howie from revealing the truth of his circumstances…
“Scramburg” is fast paced and full of moments where you’re rooting for the bad guy, and the ending really packs a solid gut punch. Like I said, it doesn’t exactly make up for the disappointment of Wicked Things, but at least it’ll leave you in a good mood.
2 1/2 out of 5
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