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Fort Freak (Wild Cards) by George R.R. Martin
Review by Drew Bittner
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765325709
Date: 21 June 2011 List Price $27.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

When there's trouble, who do you call? Even in as strange a place as Jokertown, you call the cops. And that's what this novel is all about: the cops who patrol that most amazing of New York City's neighborhoods.

George R.R. Martin and company take the reader into one of the Wild Card series' most interesting places: Fort Freak, aka the Fifth Precinct of the NYPD. Told in mosaic format, with stories interweaving as an overall narrative unfolds, this book is a star-studded jam session of writers--both veterans of the series and newcomers alike--with one blockbuster result.

First, a quick note: this review is incomplete. I am working on an interview with half a dozen (or maybe more) of the team of writers, as well as a more comprehensive look at the book itself. However, I can share some impressions of the story so far...

And a second note: if you're unfamiliar with the lavish background of the series, take a moment and go here.

Cherie Priest kicks off the action with "The Rat Race," wherein Det. Leo "Ramshead" Storgman--aging and on the verge of retirement--finds a reason to look again at a long-closed case: a multiple murder at the Rathole diner. A joker kid, Deedle, was gunned down for stealing money and drugs from the diner, but Storgman can't shake the feeling that the kid was an unlucky opportunist, not the killer. Problem is, the case is over thirty years old and the people who are still alive don't remember much. Even Storgman's social circle (you have to read it, I won't spoil the joke here) is of only limited help.

It's going to be one of those cases.

Melinda Snodgrass brings "The Rook" to Fort Freak, introducing Francis "Franny" Xavier Black, the son of a decorated police officer (and former captain of the precinct), as a brand-new patrolman. Between making a lot of enemies right off the bat, Franny has his hands full figuring out a wild card crime (wherein young women are unclothed in public) and helping out a joker girl who's in serious trouble. It's a great story, bringing in a perspective not often seen in superhuman fiction--that of the ordinary guy with no powers; Snodgrass deftly weaves in Franny's growing-up and earning some street cred, while making him a likable fellow and solid new arrival in Jokertown.

In "Faith," John Joseph Miller reflects on Father Squid's connection to the murders, including his liking (and maybe something more) for Glowworm (aka Lizzie Wallace).

"Snake Up Above" by David Anthony Durham brings Marcus Morgan (aka Black Tongue), a half-snake joker kid kicked out by his Baltimore family, into the mix. The Oddity is on Marcus's trail, after he gets mixed up with the Demon Princes gang and their ongoing war with the Werewolves gang. But the Oddity isn't his biggest problem, after he sees an ace apparently gunned down in cold blood by two cops.

"...And All the Sinners Saints" by Victor Milan and Ty Franck brings public defender Charles "Flipper" Herriman into the story. A joker with flippers for arms, he wears electronic hands to compensate, but their clumsiness makes them less useful than they might be. He finds himself a go-between between Marcus, on the run for assaulting cops, and Internal Affairs' own Det. Vince "Ratboy" Marinelli. Ratboy figures Marcus might be innocent--or at least justified in doing what he did. But the problem is going to be getting the kid's side of the story without winding up in some cop's crosshairs...

And finally (for now), "Hope We Die Before We Get Old" by Stephen Leigh follows up with the Oddity, an amalgam of three people. But one of them is having problems--debilitating problems--and this remarkable entity must make some very hard decisions. This is a story unlike any I've read in the "superhuman" genre, addressing an issue that many face daily, with a potential for tragedy unlike anything else. Kudos to Stephen Leigh for drilling to the emotional heart in the space of so few pages.

If you like this so far, come back next month. I'll have a wrap up of the book-- don't worry, it's Highly Recommended!--along with an interview with several of the writers. See you in thirty!

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