The Flaxen Femme Fatale
by John Zakour
Cover Artist: Michael Koelsh
Review by Ernest Lilley
DAW Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756405199
Date: 02 December 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: John Zakour's Home Page / Show Official Info /
Natasha is your basic secret government project gone wild. She's beautiful, cloned from the most powerful PSI on the planet, and has as much "somthing extra" as Earth Force's scientists can cram into her. Whether it was their main objective or a happy byproduct of their tweaking, not only can Natasha bend thousands of people's wills at a time, but when she gets mad, she can kill on the same order of magnitude, whether she means to or not. It's fun, it's funny, and it channels a lot of golden age tropes to perfection.
Zachery Nixon Johnson, the last PI on Earth, which he's saved from destruction five times, by title count, already had his hands full. His prospective mother-in-law is about to come to New Frisco to size him up, and it probably won't help his case any if he puts his financée (Electra) or niece (Carol) in harms way. That they're superbabes in their own right means it's really kind of hard to put them in real harms way, but Natasha can dish it out with the best of them. No, wait...she is the best of them.
When Natasha decides she's tired of spending her entire life in a military lab, and decides to take a vacation, Zach gets tapped by Earth Force to find her. Following the subtle clues left by vacation posters on her wall, and the sudden appearance of mass, but mindless, crowds Zach doesn't have too much trouble finding her. What to do with her is another question.
Fortunately, he's got a great team on his side. Harv the supercomuter wired into his brain, Gus, the ever cheerful gun system under his arm, Carol, previously the world's most powerful PSI, and his receptionist, JJ, General Walls nephew, Randy, his mad scientist buddy, and more. None of which will actually turn out to be very helpful in the final showdown.
I suppose this series qualifies as a guilty pleasure. Certainly I feel guilty sitting there reading a book titled The Flaxen Femme Fatale with the a classic pulp cover showing the same clad in retro-future-miniskirt. Though the majority of the characters in the book are women, beautiful, incredibly powerful women, I suppose it's decadent and sexist. I get confused about these points. Zach is a cross between Bogart and Indiana Jones, played for more laughs, and the women around him are generally smarter and stronger then he is. Occasionally he has a good idea, which surprises everyone, though they've gotten used to it, and frequently he has a good hunch, an occurrence his friends have resigned themselves to.
Still, I can't get over the feeling that the actual themes in these books, freedom versus security, the venial nature of man, and the unreliability of others, are all just as real here as in some high blown bit of space opera. Just that here the author decides to play with them, rather than let tides of angst wash over him.
Play he does, and if you're looking for lighthearted SF with a nod to the Noir PI pulp of yesteryear, you can't go wrong with John Zakour and The Flaxen Haired Femme Fatal...or any of his others.