Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Captured by the Engines

It was supposed to be a date like any other. A computer programmer was taking his girlfriend out, until suddenly a black Thunderbird, its radio pelting Beach Boys music into the night, appeared and herded them into an alleyway. The next thing the programmer knew he was looking down at his leg.

Which was on the other side of the alley.

Soon the car’s showing up all over, even appearing on the third floor of a hospital to finish off one of its earlier victims who survived their initial encounter. What is this strange car? Why is it killing people. And how in the hell could it just appear halfway up a hospital building? And why does the scorched rubber of its murderous tires always turn to skin and blood by the time it gets to forensics…?

I know this sounds a lot like a certain Futurama episode, but it actually works pretty well. The descriptions of the violence are fairly macabre. The author also puts some appreciable effort into fleshing out its characters before chucking them in the meat grinder, as it were. Too many other fictional murder sprees don’t really bother, in my experience, and the entire experience suffers for it. Thankfully Captured by the Engines etches its world well. The characters, not just the ones who get run down, are memorable (I found the taciturn medical examiner, and her banter with the local sheriff, to be particularly good), as are the various key locations the story revisits. Like the Pyramid of Cars, which became eerier than you'd expect a pile of rusted old junkers to be.

I won’t say the mystery aspect’s great, since doing a good mystery’s an art that seems to have died off in recent decades, but I found it easy enough to stick with the book to the end.

In fact, the mystery sucks. You’ll have figured out what’s going on long before the characters do. You will. I guarantee it. Hell, you’ve probably already figured it out just from my little summary.

And I caught a couple editorial oversights in my read-through. Like “principle office,” near the end. That one frankly baffles me. I sort was willing to let that go in the books about ReBoot, but that’s because that’s a series with lots of silly wordplay already. This was a story about gruesome vehicular homicides.

But…if you’re willing to give the book and its ideas a chance, you’ll probably come away fairly pleased with it. As I noted it fleshes out its characters and world pretty well. When a street gang named the Desperos was briefly mentioned, I had to stop and think, “Desperos? Like the Despero?”

Because the guy looking into the classic car murders is Batman. Did I mention that? Because he is.

So, yeah. Batman. And the villain of this is an obsessive maniac like most of his. As you’ve already guessed it’s nobody from the comics, but I thought he was a decent villain all the same. Disturbed, but powerful and unique. I found him memorable, and a little frightening.

All in all, a decent if perhaps overly predictable read.

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