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The Frost-Haired Vixen by John Zakour
Review by Ernest Lilley
DAW Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0756403979
Date: 05 December, 2006 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

It's the future again, and all through the world not an evildoer is stirring, thanks to the good governing of the World Council, the effective CSI tech of local police everywhere and the banning of sectarian holidays in favor of one global end of year celebration: Holiday. On Holiday everyone gets three gifts, thanks to Santana Clausa, the sexiest incarnation of Santa that World Council could engineer, which are delivered by magical means (alien teleport tech) and are just what everyone wanted thanks to the work of elf (data) miners. It's a perfect system, and everybody loves Holiday. Except for whoever is killing elves at the north pole industrial complex.

Zach Johnson is a throwback to a simpler time, specifically the noir gumshoe days of the 1940s. Sure his sidekick is a sentient computer wired directly into his brain and his gun is probably smarter than he is, but it takes more than brains to solve cases. It takes guts, determination, a strong jaw, a way with the ladies, good hunches, and a scriptwriter on your side. All of which Zach has in spades. Maybe Earth only needs one long as it's Zach. Of course, just because the scriptwriter is on your side doesn't mean you're not going to get hurt, fooled, trapped, or made a fool of. Just because you're an action hero doesn't mean you're perfect.

So when sexy Santana shows up in Zach's office and asks him to save Holiday by going undercover (And yes, her covers are definitely a possibility, but Zach is an engaged guy. With principles. And a computer chaperon.) to find out who crushed one bio-engineered elf under a quarter ton of toys and killed another with spiked eggnog, he knows it's up to him to save the day (again).

What follows, follows every classic noir thriller's plot lines that you have ever read, trimmed with SF tinsel until its boughs groan, as will readers coping with comedy and cliche overload. Zach follows the money to find a villain, taking on the most powerful corporations on Earth in his search. He heads off to the pole which is accessible only by teleporter and invitation and only a handful of outsiders are touring the pole. Which means we're basically back to a drawing room mystery and eventually Zach gets around to interviewing the suspects in the library before setting up the excruciating denouement where the murderer breaks down. Not that he actually gets that far. Or that all is as it seems. One wonders if killer-bots qualify as butlers.

Throughout Zach's career his major cases have had one unerring similarity. He's always hired by a super babe with a super-sized problem. Now, that may sound sexist, and maybe it is, but one of the themes that the author is grappling with is the downside of women in power. Zach's past is littered with glam gals who are trying too hard to make the world a better place, and thanks to the miracle of science, have the tools for the job. You may find that resonates with your perspective or grates on your nerves, but under all the holiday decorations you'll find some subtext worth unwrapping.

What intrigues me is how closely the adventures of Zach Johnson map into more serious SF and mystery themes. Just with an overdose of puns, classic comedy references (let's hope it doesn't occur to the author to mine the Three Stooges for physical comedy next), and thriller cliches. Unlike stories that take themselves seriously, though still use shopworn components but hope you won't notice, here the author knows your going to notice, so he puts bells on them and dances them around the plot. Like fruitcake, you wouldn't want a steady diet of it, but it might just be the thing for a happy holiday read. Ho, Ho, Ho.

Our Readers Respond

From: John Zakour

Thanks for review, you sum Zach and my writing for this series up quite nicely.
There is a nice "reference" to the three stooges (the four stooges) in The Plutonium Blonde -- Zach happens to be a fan of theirs.

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