The Plain Man
by Steve Englehart
Edited by James Frenkel
Cover Artist: Frank Stockton
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765324993
Date: 21 June 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Steve Englehart crams it all in his latest urban fantasy novel The Plain Man, including wizards/alchemists, demons, shape-shifters, totems, an ageless gypsy, telepaths, astral bodies, world conspirators, and other assorted beings. He continues the story of Alchemist Max August and his fight to destroy the Free Range Coalition (FRC), a cabal intent on controlling the world. Aleksandra, a female demon, once human, aids the FRC and seeks to co-opt Max.
Englehart has a long history as a writer of comic books. The Point Man (1981) was his first novel followed some thirty years later by The Long Man (2010). These Max August novels establish Max and his world, introduce the Free Range Coalition, and other assorted characters.
In this adventure, Max and his partner Pamela Blackwell combine efforts through sex magic to put in place a plan to suborn two FRC members during an anything-goes solstice festival similar to the Burning Man, but called Wickr. Max enlists the aid of Coyote, a desert totem shape-shifter, and Scopio Rose, the ageless Roma gypsy. The two are to seduce the pair of FRC members so Max can gain access to data on the FRC.
At times, the FRC appears as a thinly veiled Republican conspiracy favoring corporations and the oil companies. The storyline is heavy-handed in some places and even involves a nuclear bomb. Political rivalries among FRC members add to the excitement.
Max's first wife, Vee, was killed by Aleksandra in The Point Man and now has been reincarnated somewhere in England. Aleksandra is determined to destroy Vee once and for all. Max is anxious to find and protect her, while Pam fears she will lose Max to Vee. Worry over Vee distracts from their main mission against the FRC.
The writing is adequate, but much of the action may remind readers of over-the-top comic book action heroes. Characters seem stereotypical and could have been better developed with more complexity. Sex plays a large role for some FRC members and also for the alchemists. The next novel, The Arena Man, will follow soon.