Quarter Moon by Charlie Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
DISCLAIMER: I received a preview copy in exchange for a review.
WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers.
The beautiful thing about the Crescent City is its mysterious, and sometimes deadly, charms. Charlie takes full advantage of those qualities in Quarter Moon. Like the title, this work is three quarters shrouded in shadow. What I found was a story that reminded me a great deal of Dashiell Hammett; the characters took primacy over the plot.
This is a modern take on classic noir. Not a retelling, mind you, but a fully realized character study on how far individuals will bend in pursuit of their ideals. And, as with his Dirty Magick: Los Angeles and Dirty Magick: New Orleans anthologies, it’s also an urban fantasy/noir genre mashup.
Where to start? Well, we have vegan vampires, Asian werewolves, a cop, a priest, and a practitioner of Vodou. Charlie takes the broad tragedy of Katrina and makes it personal on a visceral level, giving rise to the rage of the weres in pursuing vengeance against the vampires. Meanwhile the story’s primary coven of vampires is attempting a non-hunting approach to feeding; this ideal clearly driven by the coven’s founder. A priest driven to despair over hearing the confession of one of the weres about his killing. A cop with blood in the streets and no perp in sight. And finally, there’s Lastie, the Vodoun priest in a city that is abandoning the old ways.
Charlie asks the reader to imagine how long the renegade coven of vampires can last when the fighting claims their leader. Will they stand firm in their commitment to not hunt humans, or will they fold under the scrutiny of the Council? Can the weres control their bloodlust and need for vengeance, or will their animal side drive them out of the shadows? Can the priest hold fast to his faith, and the cop his sanity, as the bodies begin to pile up? And, can Lastie remain in the fight and retain his humanity, as he gives himself over to be possessed by the Loa, again and again?
I mentioned Dashiell Hammett before because his attention to character sometimes made the plot wander. The characters and their responses are more important than tying up loose ends of the narrative. That’s one of the reasons people love Hammett, and like that author, Charlie’s work mirrors real life; it is messy and violent, questions are frequently left unanswered, and yest, the reader still finds unexpected joy and beauty.
There is great detail in this story, and Charlie’s passion for New Orleans rings true on every page. The city itself is a character, giving a savory depth and richness that lingers on the palate.
The pacing is reminiscent of the old pulps and modern readers may find that a challenge, but it is one that is well worth the effort. If you like noir or hard-boiled mystery, the only thing missing from this novel is a fedora. It’s a rich and intriguing read, cayenne-peppered with odd and captivating characters against a gothic backdrop.
C’mon, cher. It’s a good time, yah. I guarantee.
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