Fans of Will Christopher Baer's first novel, Kiss Me, Judas, have already met Phineas Poe: defrocked cop, former morphine addict, part-time psychotic, and a man who has lost his heart to a woman who left him in a tub full of ice, one kidney shy of the standard allotment. Poe knows a bad day when he sees one:The thing is that my consciousness drifts and I have forgotten what I look like. I pass my reflection in a blackened window and I may not recognize myself. My reflection is perceived as a threat, an ugly twin. My reflection is a dark nonperson, a stranger on the street and this is not an identity crisis as I understand the phrase. The bad days are back in Baer's second noir offering (and book two of his Poe trilogy), Penny Dreadful. Fresh from his surgical unpleasantness and eager to start a new life in Denver, Poe contacts a former colleague, Detective Moon, who shares with Poe the drunken admission that several handfuls of Denver's finest are missing. Among them is Moon's dearest friend, Detective Jimmy Sky.
When Poe agrees to look for Sky, things quantumly shift from bad to gross as he uncovers the gothish Game of Tongues, a freakishly cruel and narcotically fueled live action role-playing game (think Dungeons and Dragons in leather and chains), the object of which is to seek, suck, sever, and swallow the tongues of fellow players. Deaths ensue--imagine that!--and things spiral down from there.
Slim, existential, and darkly humorous, Penny Dreadful is a challenging (the point of view slides like Jackie Robinson, and if you prefer your dialogue with quotation marks you'd better bring your own) but beautiful train-wreck of a book that constantly dares the reader to look away. But if you don't look at the twisted metal, you'll never see the art. --Michael Hudson