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Duane Swierczynski
The Blonde
Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2008

St. Martin's Minotaur
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 0-312-34379-5
226 Pages; $23.95
Publication Date: November, 2006
Date Reviewed: 02-27-2008

Index: Mystery

"I poisoned your drink." As opening sentences go, that's a hard one to beat. Kind of compelled to keep reading to find out who poisoned whose drink and why and what happens next, right? And as you keep reading, you find yourself in the midst of a wild, funny, dizzyingly-paced best-laid-plans-gone-awry story brimming with equal doses of sarcasm and bloody mayhem.

It all begins, as you would suspect, with "the blond" who poisons Jack's drink. Jack is passing time in an airport bar on his way to a sure-to-be-nasty meeting with his wife's divorce attorney. As if he didn't have enough trouble. But hey, the blond promises to give Jack the antidote and all he has to do is stay within ten feet of her for the next ten hours. How tough can that be? Over the course of the next several hundred pages, we learn quite a lot about this particular poison and, once taken, the consequences of being left alone, and exactly how tough a mere ten hours can be.

In parallel, we meet Kowalski, an "operative" for a quasi Homeland Security Agency who, in his spare time, knocks off mob kingpins as revenge for the loss of his love. Kowalski is following orders to kill a target, chop off the target's head and deliver it to the home office. And, as a good and reliable operative, he does what must be done to carry out his task no matter the obstacles.

"Kowalski found a cheap but suitable hacksaw. He'd hoped for a power tool…Kowalski's arm was going to be sore later. He just knew it."

The route from the beheading to the home office is convoluted, crazy and, of course, brings Kowalski into contact with "the blond" and Jack. Jack, the blond and Kowalski all struggle to stay one step ahead of disaster with plan after plan, each plan unraveling to spawn a new plan that's wilder and more demented than the one before. From hotels to offbeat sex clubs, from taxi cabs to trains, these characters are chasing or being chased, running away from something or running toward something in one frenzied climax after the other. Blood seeps from places blood shouldn't ever seep, large numbers of people are killed or maimed, and some of the multiple fight scenes almost hurt to read. The plot careens from wild to outrageous to outlandish to, well, let's just characterize it as indescribably offbeat, amazing and inventive insanity.

Peppered with dialogue that sizzles, tension that escalates and pacing that is relentless, 'The Blond' is a dark, violent, humorous narrative that teeters but inches from total dementia. Eschewing the tendency to write to an elevated page count that's all too frequent in crime novels these days, Swierczynski's 'The Blond' is exactly as long as it should be. By the end of this high-energy novel, I was both exhausted and in awe of Swierczynski's imagination and dark humor, left shaken but satisfied, and frankly, a bit concerned for my own mental health as I realized how much I enjoyed this devilish bit of nastiness.

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