Monday, April 16, 2012

The Stein & Candle Detective Agency, Volume 1: American Nightmares by Michael Panush

Published March 9, 2012.

Morton Candle is a tough guy. He grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, dodging from mobster-ruled neighborhoods to reform school before the army snapped him up and sent him to Europe to fight Hitler.

That’s where he met Weatherby Stein, the scion to one of the greatest occult families of Europe. Weatherby and his parents were being held prisoner by the Nazis, forced to use their supernatural knowledge to aid the Third Reich’s war effort.
Morton Candle got Weatherby to safety, but the kid’s parents didn’t make it.

Now it’s the 1950s. Weatherby’s a teenager, with his father’s knowledge and a chip on his shoulder from the indignities of the modern world. Morton bumps into him again and they decide to go into the only business they can – paranormal private detectives.

This time, Weatherby and Mort have cases that will take them from a vampire’s decaying mansion to the mob-controlled streets of Havana. They’ll take on roadside attractions gone wrong, hordes of the living dead, and ride against the devil in a high speed car race to the death.

Between them, Weatherby and Mort have a small arsenal and a deep knowledge of matters arcane and bizarre. They’ll need brains and brawn to survive in a world where horror, action and hardboiled noir come together in a cataclysmic mix.

OMG I loved STEIN & CANDLE so much I can't even tell you. It had the perfect amounts of cheese, campiness and noir all mixed in together. I can't tell you what it was specifically that I loved about this book but I can say it hit me just right in the cockle area that it made me a little giddy. Seriously, it was wonderful.

I will say the one thing that did irk me a bit was Candle's constant PTSD flashbacks/mentions to his war days. Those became a little much. I understand it was a part of Candle but for the most part I don't believe that's how most veterans go around thinking. For Candle everything reminded him of bullets or explosions or tanks or something. I'd imagine that kind of thinking would drive someone insane because they wouldn't be able to leave the battlefield. And Candle wasn't all that crazy compared so some of his former military buddies he came across in the stories. So I'd have to say that'd be my one complaint.

Everything else? LOVED IT! Weatherby Stein was, of course, my favorite. He is the Brain to Candle's Pinky. Well, no, not really. Candle's actually a pretty smart guy but it's obvious he's the muscle and Weatherby's the smarts. He's just 14 I believe but he has the air or someone that could be his father. You get a look at him in his own story's section when he was little, maybe 8, and he was like that even then. Just far smarter and more mature than his age dictated. But he wasn't annoying about it. He was constantly endearing, especially when it came to one boy he rescued a couple of times. He felt an affinity for him and had a need to constantly protect him (a by-product of not being able to product those around him whom he loved, I would imagine) when he's near. The kid, for the most part, always has his head about him and Candle really relies on him as much as he wants to protect him as his own. He's a great character; possibly one of the best I've come across in my reading ventures.

Candle is another great guy. Like genuinely just a good guy that happens to break some kneecaps if the situation calls for it. He's a bit of a hardass on the outside but since all of the stories are in his POV you get to see just how he feels about things, the soft spot he has for Weatherby and even for some of the people in the cases he works. He's far more intelligent than his outward demeanor would otherwise say and I just loved being in his head. I was never bored and he told a damn good story.

STEIN & CANDLE is a series of individual stories set apart as chapters but loosely linked together through minute mentions of previous stories. For instance mentioning Havana when they come across a couple of the same characters in Las Vegas or Candle's new car when he previous lost it in Vegas. Outside of those small mentions there isn't much stringing the chapters together. They can rightly stand on their own as their own individual stories and, for the most part, they do. The best part about them, though, is their feel. Panush has done a great job of capturing that cusp feel of a society switching from a war-geared gangster-fueled era into one greater led by the Mary Tyler Moores of the world. There's a crime-fighting noir about it reminiscent of Dick Tracy just with vampires and zombies and hoodoo. Loved the hoodoo, by the way. It's not an element seen very often and I just squeal a little every time I do see it.

Anyway, each story had it's particular feel led, of course, by Candle's voice. Aside from the flashback thingy I mentioned earlier, it has a little bit of wise guy attitude fresh off the battle field but without being overly obnoxious. Everywhere they go I can feel the time in which they're in. Havana in the early 50s, pre-revolution. If you know anything about it you'll be able to picture it in your mind. Or a drag race with the devil in a hot ass muscle car in California when cars still had real muscles. Or even the smartly-dressed aristocratic vamps wanting to get their money back. My favorite was Weatherby's story, about what happened to him and his parents in Castle Stein with the Nazis. It was a great departure from the tone of the rest of the stories but one that needed to be told just to give Weatherby some more depth, although he already had plenty.

Seriously, I can't say enough good things about THE STEIN & CANDLE DETECTIVE AGENCY. I'd love to see it as a comic because, well, that would just be epic. It has the feel for it and I really hope that's a possibility in the future. But between the most excellent characters, the settings to vivid you'll see them in your dreams and all of the crazy paranormal shenanigannery Stein and Candle get into, there's not much left to NOT love. It's campy, it's crazy and most of all it's fun. You really can't beat that. It's not to often I find a genuinely fun read; one that riles me up and makes me want to get up and do something. STEIN & CANDLE is a different incarnation of Sam and Dean, when Dean can go all Untouchable to his heart's content. Yeah, I can see it. And I love it.

Ban Factor: High - There's a prostitute in one of these stories. It doesn't matter what else is in there (zombies, vampires, hillbillies). The pro will make them go con.
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