Reviewed in the United States on September 11, 2011
Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski is the first in a trilogy of novels featuring Charlie Hardie as the protagonist, with the second book coming out in October and the third one in March of 2012. After reading the first book, you'll definitely want to get the other two when they hit the bookshelves. I know this from personal experience because reading Fun & Games was the most fun (no pun intended) I've had during the past year. It's nearly 300 pages in length, yet I read it in less than a week. This is now a record for me since I only average about a hundred pages a week on most novels I read. Some less and some a little more depending how busy I am. Now, before I go any further, let me also say that Duane Swierczynski is the author of The Wheelman, which is one the damn best crime novels I've ever read. It's right up there with Tom Piccirilli's The Cold Spot and The Coldest Mile.
Okay, what about Fun & Games? The story centers around ex-Philadelphia cop, Charlie Hardie, who was nearly killed while on the job. He soon retired from the force and became a professional house sitter, moving around the country and babysitting other people's homes while they are away. His new gig is in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles County. He's taking care of a house that's own by a movie soundtrack artist, who's away in Europe for a whole month.
When Charlie flies into LAX and discovers that his suitcase has been lost, it's only the beginning of a really bad day. Charlie then rents a car and drives it up to the Hollywood Hills where the house is located. He quickly finds out that the house keys aren't in the mailbox where they're supposed to be, so he has to climb the roof and make his way to the back, hoping to get in through the rear door. Charlie does manage to get into the house, but it turns out he's not alone. Hiding on the bottom floor is the owner's girlfriend, Lane Madden, a mid-level actress on the verge of stardom. Someone tried to kill her on the highway during the early morning hours, and now she's afraid to go home. Charlie thinks she's crazy as a loon because she believes the killers are actually outside the house, waiting to finish the job. The thing is she's right. Charlie soon learns that there are some very talented and skillful killers after her and that they don't have a problem with taking him out, too. He's just collateral damage.
Fortunately for Lane, Charlie is no ordinary ex-cop. Charlie was a government killer long ago, and he hasn't forgotten his special job skills. He's also a very difficult man to kill as other people have found out to their dismay. The Accident People, as Lane refers to the killers, are being employed by some heavy Los Angeles hitters who want Lane to die. The thing is her death has to look like an accident. That's the specialty of the Accident People. In fact, that's how a lot of famous Hollywood stars have died over the last fifty years. Their murder was made to look like an accident--drug overdose, car accident, accidental drowning, or a suicide. To get to Lane, however, they're going to have to get through Charlie, and it's not going to be easy. If Charlie's going to have a bad day, he's going to make sure everyone else has one, too.
Fun & Games was not only suspenseful and filled with priceless nuggets of Hollywood lore, the story had me laughing out loud in several places. Charlie Hardie isn't your ordinary hero. The guy has had a hard life and now all he wants to do is take it easy by babysitting some rich guy's home and watching old Hollywood movies on television, until it's time to pack up and leave. Unfortunately, he doesn't get to do that in this novel. His job is going to be keeping himself and Lane Madden alive, until he can finally figure out what to do and who to go to for help. The thing about Hollywood is that you can't really trust anyone. That's something Charlie has to learn the hard way over the loud protests of Lane Madden, who happens to be more wise in the ways of Tinsel Town.
You can tell that the author, Duane Swierczynski, is having loads of fun with the story, and that he's a major Hollywood buff. Each chapter begins with a line of dialogue from a famous actor or actress or movie. The thing that surprised me is that I already knew most of the lines and had seen the movies they'd come from. Also, the author has a way of developing unique characters that sound like real people; yet, are flawed in some unusual way and have very memorable quirts. Mr. Swierczynski certainly knows how to build suspense and to keep the reader turning those pages. He's a true master of his craft and the genre, and Fun & Games holds you till the last sentence is read.
So, what all of this comes down to is that I'm eagerly awaiting Hell & Gone to come out in October. I'm anxious to find out what happens to Charlie Hardie next and if the Accident People will be uncovered by the police and state authorities. You know I've always felt that actress Marilyn Monroe was murdered, and that her death was faked to look like a drug overdose. This book gave me more to think about in that regards.