MacAdam Cage, May 2007, $14
Former sitcom and ad writer Marshall Karp blasted holes through Hollywood hypocrisy in his 2006 debut, The Rabbit Factory. Now the Woodstock mystery maven brings his comical cops back for another round in Bloodthirsty.
Once again, we open with a grisly and inexplicable murder—ending on an odd note, not entirely lacking in sympathy for the perpetrators. It’s a strange and gripping reading experience. Then Karp whisks us deftly off to rejoin detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs, as they stand poised on the brink of fame and fortune: the Disneyesque Familyland murder case they solved in The Rabbit Factory has captured the attention of some film industry money men, and Lomax and Biggs find their cop cynicism getting squeezed aside just the tiniest bit by visions of swimming pools full of cash.
But of course, matters are not destined to go quite so smoothly as that. It’s not long before people start turning up dramatically, gruesomely dead. They’re not awfully nice people, which complicates matters in terms of a list of likely suspects, but, all the same, nobody goes around draining the blood out of folks on this duo’s watch and gets away with it for long.
Both men have significant others in this book. With heroes so likeable, one wishes them well, and with a writer with Karp’s gift for character development and dialogue, the new relationships just add to the fun. Then, too, there’s Lomax’s dad—“the size of a Hummer, loud as a Harley, and prone to bear hugs.”
It’s a very good thing these unconventional cops have what might be called a support network, because not all of their colleagues and employers are notable for empathy, humor, or common sense. Naturally, Lomax and Biggs face relentless teasing over having “gone Hollywood” and achieved such a high profile that producers are after them. And while clearly on the side of the good guys, Karp’s not afraid to point fingers at the biases of some of the boys in blue, who can hinder matters more than they help. (“The garbage man Sauer had labeled as not too bright turned out to be the smartest, best-looking sanitation worker I’d ever met,” notes Lomax, in following up the investigation of an especially ornery patrolman.)
And as the twists and turns of what gets labeled “the Hollywood Bloodsucker Case” begin to heat up, our heroes find themselves constantly dancing on thin ice with their superiors, running headlong into political correctness and crashing through. Once again, Karp has assigned them to a case that requires a complete and blasé irreverence toward cultural icons and institutions, and, once again, Lomax and Biggs prove equal to the task, with steel-trap minds and a steady stream of one-liners.
Naturally, the media fastens its collective self like a leech onto something as juicy as an apparent vampire on the loose, allowing for still more complications, false leads, aggravations, and comic schtick. And, as the confusion finally begins to clear, nothing turns out quite as expected in the land of illusion.
Karp’s light touch allows him to wrestle playfully with some serious questions about morality, murder, family loyalty, and vengeance. The despicable nature of the murder victims allows one to enjoy the ride without getting queasy at the gallows humor of the cops as the roller coaster of whodunnit soars, plunges, and loops upside down.
Bloodthirsty has a slightly more straightforward plotline than The Rabbit Factory, and fans of Karp’s hefty first novel (just out in paperback) might find themselves missing that labyrinthine quality just a little bit. But it’s still a rousing good read, and his irreverent heroes and their circle of friends are a joy to spend time with. One comes away hoping there will be still more adventures for Lomax and Biggs in the future, and wondering if they will ever reap the financial rewards of having been up to their necks in all this inspired lunacy, the brass ring that seemed so nearly within their grasp as the second book opened. Would success spoil Lomax and Biggs? Not bloody likely.