What goes up must come down, the saying goes, and Jay Russell has imagined a world in which all our childhood heroes have done just that, not simply reaching Earth, but bypassing it and sinking more deeply into the mire than I would have thought possible.
Deconstructionism and continuation have been a part of literature, almost as long as there has been literature. New authors with new ideas use the ideas, words and characters of old authors in order to illuminate the present or make some other kind of statement. Witness "The New Testament", "The Wide Sargasso Sea", "The Wind Done Gone", "Paradise Lost" or any Sherlock Holmes pastiche to see what I mean. Sometimes these attempts are profound; mostly they are dull and add nothing. Then there's "Brown Harvest", which is both a tongue-in-cheek update to Hammet's "Red Harvest" and a continuation of the stories of nearly every child detective you ever read. Ch*rry Ames is here, as are D*nny Dunne, J*piter Jones and the H*ppy H*llisters. The H*rdy Boys are major characters. So are B*gs Meany and Curious Ge*rge. But the story truly belongs to the smartest kid in Id(e)aville, *ncycl*p*d** Br*wn.
Yes, I've hidden the identities of these characters, just as Russell did, to protect their memories. In Russell's mean streets, nothing good ever happens to a fictional character when he grows up. These once-pure literary entities are now alcoholics, drug-addicts, prostitutes, wastrels, murderers, crooks and sodomites. If you loved these characters, then learning how they turned out will break your heart.
Fortunately, this is only one possible ending for these kids and I'd like to think that other books, as yet unwritten, hold a brighter future for them. But that's another matter entirely.
The story looesly follows its hard-boiled inspiration, "Red Harvest", in that a lone man enters a town gone wild, run by three opposing gangs (in this case, violent software companies). Each gang hires the loner who, in turn, begins turning the gangs against one another in order to force them to wipe the others out. The goal is to gain revenge and be the last man standing.
Jay Russell is a sly and unflinching reporter, able to bring both humor and pathos to nearly every paragraph. I did find myself laughing out loud and relating the plot or dialog to my friends (most of whom never read the originals, sadly). But on nearly every page I also felt a piece of my childhood die when I saw what Russell had done to my beloved childhood friends. This is not a book for sentimentalists or the faint of heart.
But if you can stomach it, this is a hell of an entertaining book, one that will keep you reading, keep you guessing, keeping you rummaging through the attic to retrieve those relics of the past and read them again, to assure yourself they are still as they were.
And if you get a chance, read Jay Russell's "Marty Burns" series. This book led me in that direction and I'm now a huge fan.