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Monday, July 11, 2011

“Skeleton Crew” by Cameron Haley w/Bonus Review of “Retribution” (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Skeleton CrewHERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Mob Rules
Read FBC’s Interview with Cameron Haley

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Cameron Haley is a pseudonym for Greg Benage. Greg is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Tulane University with a degree in Political Economy. He currently works as a Senior Product Manager in US Bank. He also worked as a managing editor and product development executive in the publishing industry for more than six years and has more than 14 years of experience in commercial writing and business communications. His bibliography includes Mob Rules and Skeleton Crew.

PLOT SUMMARY: Some people fear snakes. Me? Let it be known that Domino Riley hates zombies. Bodies are hitting the pavement in L.A. like they always do, but this time they’re getting right back up, death be damned. My mobbed-up outfit of magicians may be the strongest in the city, but even they aren’t immune to the living dead.

And I’ve yet to develop a resistance to Adan Rashan. If I don’t team up with the boss’s son, we won’t just be at each other’s throats over control of the outfit. We’ll be craving hearts and brains, as well.

Because as long as this nasty spirit from the Between is stopping souls from finding peace, I’m facing the biggest supernatural crisis to ever hit the City of Angels.

Zombies, it’s time you feared me..

CLASSIFICATION: Like its predecessor Mob Rules, Skeleton Crew is a dark Urban Fantasy novel set in a contemporary Los Angeles.

FORMAT/INFO: Skeleton Crew is 311 pages long divided over fifteen numbered chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via Domino Riley. Skeleton Crew is the second volume of The Underworld Cycle after Mob Rules. While Skeleton Crew can be read as a standalone novel, it would be advisable to read Mob Rules first for the best experience. April 19, 2011 marked the North American Trade Paperback publication of Skeleton Crew via Luna Books. Cover illustration is provided by Timothy Bradstreet.

ANALYSIS: After last year’s surprising debut by Cameron Haley, I was very interested to see how the author would further develop the story and setting in Skeleton Crew, the second volume of The Underworld Cycle. With the blurb promising zombies, I grew even more excited, wondering what surprises the author had in store for readers. A warning though before I continue. If you have not read Mob Rules, the first book of The Underworld Cycle, then please be aware that there are spoilers ahead...

Like most urban fantasy novels, The Underworld Cycle takes place in a contemporary setting where magic exists in the normal world. In this case, the residents of L.A. call magic “juice”. Domino Riley is one such practitioner and lately she’s had her hands full due to the events of the previous book, Mob Rules. This includes dealing with a new gang, Domino appointed the war general of her gang, and working alongside Adan Rashan—the son of Shanar Rashan, a Sumerian wizard ganglord.

Skeleton Crew meanwhile, opens with a funeral that quickly turns bizarre when the bodies of those getting buried climb out of their coffins craving human flesh. From here, Domino, Adan, Honey and her new pixie boyfriend must figure out why the spirits of the recently deceased are refusing to leave their mortal remains, and stop the zombie infestation before the US government decides to nuke L.A. At the same time, Domino must also deal with her complicated feelings for Adan and their power struggles.

Compared to Mob Rules, Skeleton Crew is definitely better. The pacing is excellent with events escalating to an exciting conclusion where Domino and company must face very difficult choices; Domino herself is very fun to read, reminding me of the criminal Parker by Richard Stark; and the tone of the book continues to venture into darker territory. Plus, the author utilizes a real-life controversial topic in the plot that was a good move, even if it is not developed very far.

Drawbacks are few, but include a protagonist who is portrayed more as a hero than the criminal she’s supposed to be—probably because Domino’s life as a gangster is told rather than shown—and an interesting setting that is restricted only to Los Angeles.

CONCLUSION: While Mob Rules showed some promise, it faltered during the middle and third parts of the novel. Skeleton Crew on the other hand, has very few dull moments as it races towards a macabre, but exciting conclusion, while giving readers larger doses of action, not to mention a kick-ass heroine and a worthwile incentive to come back for the third volume of The Underworld Cycle, which is being paved towards an explosive finale...

BONUS REVIEW — “Retribution”:

Order “Harvest MoonHERE

Retribution is a novella featured in the Harvest Moon anthology, which also includes novellas by Mercedes Lackey and Michelle Sagara. Retribution is 93 pages long, features Domino Riley as the first-person narrator, and is set before the events of Mob Rules, the first book in The Underworld Cycle.

The novella opens with Domino executing a would-be usurper out in the desert. Before he dies though, the gangster inflicts a terrible curse upon Domino involving Samael, the angel of death. From here, Retribution follows Domino as she trys to break the curse before it’s too late. What I liked best about this story was how it shows Domino for who she truly is: a ruthless gangster willing to do whatever it takes to get things done. The novella also reveals some of Domino’s background, which helps explain the hardened person she has become.

As a whole, Retribution is perhaps the best thing Cameron Haley has written so far. Not only is it the best interpretation of the character Domino, but the novella also evocatively captures the author’s writing style, while providing a fast-paced, entertaining story. In short, I would recommend Retribution to anyone interested in sampling Cameron Haley’s work...


Jamie Gibbs said...

Zombies and magicians are a good mix in my book :) I'll keep an eye out for Haley's stuff :)


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