Cole’s noir fantasy sees an assassin turn against those who pay him while preparing the ultimate revenge.
In Old Detroit City, Diego Valerius Vega kills criminals. The city’s evil Masterminds pay him well to take “unwanted garbage off the street.” His rage traces back to a campground in Montana when, at age 9, he witnessed his mother’s violent death at the hands of the one currently known as his Arch Nemesis. Within a week, the end of a 20-year cycle will reopen the Rift and return this Monster to the campground. Diego has been living only to avenge his mother, but according to junkie Billy Gums, something’s happened to Bess Smith, a prostitute Diego has sworn to protect. Billy eventually reveals that Bess had been working a Supervillain’s private party when things got rough. Diego and his partner, Berny Duende, check the girl’s apartment to no avail. The heroes pay one of her neighbors, the keen-eared Eleanor, to call if Bess returns. Then they head to a strip club run by Frannie, the woman who took in Diego after his mother’s murder. The crime fighters learn that Oliver Brighton (of the infamous Brighton boys) and his gang pummeled Bess. Diego hopes to find Bess and settle up with Oliver before his showdown with his Arch Nemesis in Montana. Fortunately, the duo has unusual skills. Diego can shape-shift and Berny has visions prompted by certain smells, but neither anticipates the tempest fate has in store.
Though Cole’s (The Burden of Memory, 2016, etc.) latest may seem like a straightforward urban fantasy, it dives deeper into the characters’ psychologies than readers may expect. Berny, the narrator, is tortured by memories of the enigmatic Whitecoats who gave him powers when they “opened that hidden door to [his] skull and flipped on their secret switches.” Diego, a successful albeit murderous riff on Batman, uses flames, smoke, and claws to dole out justice. Yet Cole winks at the strict superhero dynamics that fans love to dissect, like the exact nature of the bats and red spiders with which Diego assaults criminals (“They descend…like the breath of God”). Instead he focuses on pulpy atmospherics, crafting startling visual moments and prose that revel in depravity (“Her left iris looks like a blue gem resting on a bed of red velvet”). Cole scales back the roaming dialogue that flavored his previous works but unleashes Berny’s bristly commentary: “The air reeks of sulfur and despair and hopelessness.” The narrator wonders whether Diego can “save the ones you love” and still “suckle the breast of Vengeance.” Such flamboyantly noirish lines put him in good company with Frank Miller, artist and writer of the Sin City graphic novels. Overall, Cole remembers to ground Old Detroit as a human place, like when an “old couple” feverishly makes out in Frannie’s. Only in the grim finale is the book’s title explained, as he pushes his characters toward their least expected destinies.
This urban fantasy’s got a quick wit and a thick mood.