And that’s why we were initially wary of reading The City of Smoke and Mirrors. Despite the author’s affection for detectives and superheroes, we generally avoid arched and self-conscious genre romps like this.
No matter how well written it may be, a novel featuring a wiseass mutant armadillo detective and a parade of exotic superheroes and supervillains is susceptible to burlesque. For us, parody and caricature work best in small and clever doses.
Thankfully, The City of Smoke and Mirrors is much better than we thought it would be. Despite the absurd premise and the oftentimes overwrought language, the plot is tight, the characters are likable goofballs, and the author’s overriding sense of humor helps smooth out the rough spots. Plus, there’s enough backstory and unresolved mystery to warrant a sequel (or two).
The adventure begins in earnest when a woman with the “most bountiful cleavage that man could possibly manufacture” hires our hero to retrieve a pearl necklace. This set-up is a nod to The Maltese Falcon, of course, and it’s a comfortable way to kick things off.
The plot takes a superhero twist when the armadillo gumshoe (full name: Dilbert Dashiel [sic] Augustus Pinkerton) visits Nevermore Bay, a city famous for having the lowest crime rate in the country.
Nevermore Bay was safe because it was home to a shadowy figure named the Buzzard. He was a bird of prey who stalked thugs from the sky, swooping down and eating them alive. His methods were brutal and effective. But he was an illegal vigilante with a complicated relationship with the police department. Yes, he put fear into the hearts of criminals. But he also terrorized law-abiding citizens as well. In reality, nobody was actually “safe” from the Buzzard’s brand of carrion justice.
As luck would have it, Dilbert’s quest for his client’s missing pearl necklace brings him face to face with the Buzzard. And the rest of the novel unfolds in a jumble of hardboiled and superhero rhetoric. Like we said earlier, The City of Smoke and Mirrors panders to genre parody enthusiasts and is chock-full of goofy characters and silly happenstance. It’s like a jokey version of Sin City and The Dark Knight Returns—if you can imagine such a thing.
[The City of Smoke and Mirrors: An Armadillo Mystery / By Nick C. Piers / First Printing: February 2013 / ISBN: 9781482613001]