Wednesday, 19 March 2014

'No Hero' - Jonathan Wood (Titan Books)

I’ve never really been one for Urban Fantasy Police Procedurals; gave the whole thing a go but couldn’t escape the feeling that it was the same story being told with different characters – ‘copper finds out there’s supernatural stuff going on, does a bit of old fashioned police work, job done and off down the boozer for a pint with the lads’. And hasn’t Ben Aaronovitch cornered the market here already? Is there really room for another one?
Jonathan Wood seems to think so and, more tellingly for me, so do a lot of bloggers who know their stuff. I was after a little change in my reading (‘Blood Song’ and ‘Half a King’ is enough to keep me going for a little while I think…) so figured I would see how ‘No Hero’ and my daily commute got on together. The answer was ‘not perfectly by any means but not too badly thank you very much…’

What would Kurt Russell do? Oxford police detective Arthur Wallace asks himself that question a lot. While he s a good cop, he prefers his action on the big screen. But when he sees tentacles sprouting from the neck of a fresh corpse, the secretive government agency MI37 comes to recruit Arthur in its struggle against a threat from another dimension known as the Progeny. But Arthur is NO HERO! Can an everyman stand against sanity-ripping cosmic horrors?

‘No Hero’ is the first in a trilogy (according to the ‘also available’ bit at the back of the book anyway, there might be more to come) and so it falls to the book to introduce the players, set the ground rules for this new setting and so on. Wood also gives us one hell of a ride through a plot featuring Lovecraftesque parasites trying to bring about the end of the world. It’s all awesome stuff, and more on that in a moment, but I couldn’t help but feel that certain elements of the book were trying to race each other rather than give the reader something a little more coherent.
The plot runs at such a breakneck pace that it gets away from all the important stuff about setting the rules and saying what can and cannot happen. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Wood has a tendency to let certain characters ‘info-dump’ a little too much, but the result for me was that I kept having to stop and ask myself why certain things were happening and if they could actually happen or not. Not at all good for the flow of the book.

That was about the only thing wrong with ‘No Hero’ though; Jonathan Wood has a story to tell and does it with gusto. While the end result may not be polished you can’t deny the urgency of the plot and the unexpected directions that it takes the book in. Nothing is certain with the characters and the reader kept on their toes throughout; you wouldn’t have thought that Wood could maintain that tension for so long but he does it and makes it all look very easy.

The highlight for me though was Arthur Wallace, a regular copper who would rather watch stuff blowing up on telly than be the guy lighting the fuse. Sometimes life doesn’t give you that choice though and Wallace will have to stand or fall on his police instincts and ‘What would Kurt Russell do?’
Wood nails it dead on with Wallace whose dry humour helps him to cope with the mind numbing fear of monstrosities from beyond time and space. It’s not only an interesting examination of what actually makes a hero but it also made for the only urban fantasy novel I’ve ever read that made me laugh out loud. ‘No Hero’ is a very funny read in places and I’m hoping for more of the same in the next book (which I will be reading, just to see the zombie dinosaur).

‘No Hero’ could do with a little more polish around the edges but it’s an entertaining read nonetheless and I’m pretty sure this blog will be featuring the next two books in the very near future.

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