Back in 2014, I reviewed a bizarre spy thriller called The Spartak Trigger which I described as, “a good book disguised as a bad book.” Immediately after submitting that review, it occurred to me that that description might not sound as complimentary as I intended it, and I worried that it could be taken the wrong way; however, apparently, the author liked it, because he still tweets that line out as a pull quote every now and then.
Idol Threat is the sequel to Spartak Trigger, and I’m happy to report that it’s more of the same. Author Bryce Allen finds all new ways of turning what should, by all accounts, be a terrible book into a really fun read.
Shane Bishop is a thoroughly reprehensible human being who makes money doing reprehensible things for even more reprehensible corporations. He’s also fully aware that he’s the main character in a bad novel. In the previous book, he would frequently argue with and insult the narrator over every tired plot device or bit of overwritten prose. I was rather hoping there would be more of that in this book, as it’s one of the things that made Spartak Trigger unique and fun.
Sadly, I guess the gimmick was deemed played out. Though I can’t help but be a little disappointed, I can definitely see how it would be difficult to keep it interesting over the course of a second book. Instead, this book finds new ways of exploring metatextuality by actually having Shane read a third-rate novel similar to the type that he himself occupies and frequently berates.
Entering a mysterious bookshop in Russia, Shane buys a magical tablet computer with the power to create a novel for him based on his input of what he wants to read about (Nazis, sports, and a few movies he likes). Then, he’s immediately called back to the United States to look for his daughter who’s gone missing. You’d think this would be a non-stop, action-packed mission, but large portions of it end up being just waiting around for someone or something. During those periods, Shane reads his customized novel—and so do we.
This book within a book follows the exploits of a family of Nazis as they escape Germany at the end of World War II and spend the next several decades secretly trying to get the United States to embrace the ideals of Nazism and Fascism. Needless to say, the concept is pretty topical at the moment, and there are a number of thinly veiled references that help drive the point home.
The narrative switches back and forth between Shane’s storyline trying to find and rescue his daughter, and the storyline of the Nazis in the book he’s reading. As it goes along, we start to see an increasing number of parallels between the two stories.
The book within a book also functions as an opportunity to skewer heavy handed stylistic choices and storytelling techniques, much like Spartak Trigger did. Only here, it’s done through long chunks of heavy handed prose. In fact, at one point, one of the Nazi characters starts writing a book of his own, delivering to us an even more heavy handed book within a book within a book.
That may seem like it would be tedious to read, but, somehow, it’s not. Done with a self-referential wink and nod to the audience, every time you think the story is about to lose you, there’s something to bring you right back, often through the use of sarcastic footnotes that lampshade the book’s every flaw.
This novel definitely isn’t for everyone. For one thing, as previously mentioned, our “hero” is a homophobic, misogynistic dirtbag who often goes out of his way to be offensive. A lot of the humor is wildly inappropriate. I get the impression that author Bryce Allen is the type of friend to whom you frequently have to say, “Dude! You can’t say things like that!” while at the same time trying to stifle your own laughter.
There are also a lot of plot devices and narrative conveniences that you’ll need to take with a grain—if not a whole shaker—of salt; however, if you can roll with the fact that much of the story makes no sense (on purpose), genres are switched back and forth at the drop of a hat (surprisingly effectively), and Deus Ex Machina reigns supreme (often in the funniest, most bizarre ways you can imagine), then you’ll find that this is a really fun and entertaining novel that’s hard to put down.
Creative Team: Bryce Allen (author)
Publisher: Bedlam Press
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