Hunter's Moon - David Devereux
Consider the humble dinobot. It's a ROBOT that turns into a DINOSAUR! If you're Grimlock, you're also a T-Rex with a cool name. If you're Slag, you don't get the cool name, but you can breathe fire. If you're Sludge... um, you've got a crappy name, and you can turn into a giant, slow herbivore with a brain the size of a walnut. The point is, combining cool stuff with other cool stuff is a delicate art, and easy to get wrong. Devereux's black-magic black-ops black comedy walks a narrow line between Grimlock and Sludge; it works well enough as an action-packed thriller, but only because it's fast and brutal enough to skate over most of the cracks.
The opening sequence is the best part of the book, with protagonist Jack on a straightforward infiltrate-and-sabotage mission that is soon revealed to be rather nastier than your usual spy stuff. I say "protagonist" rather than "hero", as Jack is an amoral, cynical, stone-cold killer. Actually, that makes him sound too cool; he's just a shit, and quite an annoying one at that. Devereux has aimed for a Magnificent Bastard vibe but just slightly missed the mark; something about Jack's super-wizard-assassin persona seems forced, and the glimpses of his more human side are not really enough to make him likeable. The details of his mission don't help much, either.
In keeping with the testosterone-(over)loaded theme, Jack's task here is to bring down an evil female-supremacist black-magic lesbian sex cult*. Yes, that's right. Our villainesses are, naturally, filthy dominatrix nymphomaniacs*, using their sex power* in a lame plot to murder the Prime Minister, which adds a nasty undercurrent of misogyny worthy of Ken Russell, or even The Duke himself. Jack is back-up man to the female agent (Annie) sent to infiltrate this cult, but once things inevitably go wrong, it's up to him to go in and sort things out. Yay for men, etc. All this just serves to emphasise the overdone blokey blokeness of it all, especially when we get to the macho-worshipping wankfests* of the Super Badass American Black Guy and the Hard SAS Squad. I've met David Devereux and he seemed like a nice bloke, (despite being a "professional exorcist"), and I know his main character is supposed to be an arsehole, but the whole message of pervy-women-are-evil-so-torturing-them-is-OK left a very bad taste in my mouth.
The writing has pace but lacks polish; Jack's first-person narrative is full of the hard-boiled callousness you'd expect, but the amount of British swearing just makes it sound like a cheesy Britflick, probably featuring Keith Allen. We just can't do noir like the Yanks. In fact, this is the equivalent of a Channel 5 made-for-TV Britflick; entertaining enough in its way with plenty of action, kinky sex and slightly underwhelming evil plan (the idea of the PM's assassination leaves me strangely indifferent), but lacking anything deeper. Jack's character is as shallow as they come and his uncharacteristic attraction to Annie felt more like a plot device than anything genuine. There's a touch of overexplanation, too, with Secret Agent codewords and acronyms being unnecessarily spelled out for the reader's benefit, though given the book's likely lowest-common-denominator reader demographic, that may have been a deliberate move. Hunter's Moon is short, vicious and dirty, but that's about as far as it goes.
*I expect these phrases to boost my Google rating considerably