Hard-boiled enforcer Juno Mozambe is back to crack some skulls and massage out some confessions in Warren Hammond’s latest novel, “Ex-KOP.” Although it’s a sequel to Hammond’s 2007 debut novel “KOP,” “Ex-KOP” possesses a self-contained storyline and reads like a standalone novel, serving as an excellent entry point into Hammond’s universe for new readers. Hammond is currently working on a third book in the KOP series.
Juno Mozambe has seen brighter days. Once the second-in-command (and chief enforcer) for the Koba Office of Police (KOP) before being forced out, Juno’s a beaten man, broken-down and starting to feel his age. He’s desperate for money, reduced to secretly filming off-worlder sexual liaisons in order to blackmail them. His wife Niki lies in a hospital bed, paralyzed after an accident, waiting for an orbital to grow her a new spine. But bioteching new spines ain’t cheap and Juno must hustle to make the vertebrae mortgage payments.
Juno soon gets a call from Maggie Orzo, an ambitious KOP detective looking to climb the organizational ladder. Not only is Maggie like a daughter to him, she’s offering a fair chunk of change for providing fresh eyes to the Juarez case. Adela Juarez is currently cooling her heels on death row for the murder of her parents, only days away from being gassed. Maggie believes the girl is innocent and that Adela’s confession was coerced by her partner, Ian Davies. Since Maggie can’t be caught narc-ing out her own partner, she’d like Juno to look into it.
“Ex-KOP” is a techno-thriller on steroids. Dark and emotionally disturbing, Hammond’s novel is noir for the pessimist. A trip down the rabbit hole into a morass of sexual perversions, each layer like some new salacious circle in Dante’s Hell. It’s violent, ruthless and gritty, a novel that swaggers bowlegged with machismo and flosses its teeth with femurs. Not since Warren Ellis’s “Crooked Little Vein” have I read a book this dark and twisted and deliciously fun.
The narrative is straightforward with very few surprises. Even without twists and turns the novel is addictively readable. I found myself not being able to put the book down, always wanting to read one more chapter. Though it advertises itself as science fiction, “Ex-KOP” is more detective-noir than SF. What science there is in the book is technologically-based and easily comprehensible since the world of Lagarto and its capital of Koba are a technological backwater.
Koba serves as an intriguing setting. Situated in an Amazonian-like jungle, the city frames—and in some places encroaches—upon the swelling Koba River. Residents must contend with an overabundance of lizards that seem to find their way into everything. Not surprisingly the weather is miserable, torrential rains making certain the residents never stay dry. While the Koba is not necessarily unique, I found it memorable. Dark, dreary and rainy are staples in noir fiction so Koba provided a perfect atmosphere for the story.
Juno is a wonderful multi-layered hero, emotionally conflicted and believably desperate. He’s a wounded animal, cornered and fighting for his life. He’s far from a saint, but he can be endearing at times despite appearances. He’s stubborn and loyal and wants to be a better man and good husband. Hammond does a tremendous job in giving Juno a living, breathing soul. The supporting characters unfortunately aren’t as lucky, more caricatures than believable people. Though Maggie receives a lot of face time in the book, we don’t learn much more about her other than the fact she’s ambitious. Characters play roles here, offering little insight into who they are, an aspect which is not uncommon in noir literature. The lack of characterization though doesn’t hinder the story, characters adequately play their roles, they just don’t add anything beyond that.
Despite its faults, I enjoyed “Ex-KOP.” It’s wickedly fun and incredibly addictive detective noir, like literary crack which will have you jones-ing for the next chapter. After finishing the book, I realized I was hooked. I immediately wanted to go out and grab “KOP” to experience more Juno Mozambe goodness. For fans of dark noir, you can’t go wrong here.