Wild Cards Volume 7 - DEAD MAN'S HAND
Rather than begin a new triad, Dead Man's Hand essentially serves as a companion piece to Ace In The Hole, as it takes places concurrently with the events in that story - indeed, several scenes actually overlap (see notes for explanation).
This second tale starts again on Monday July 18th and runs through to midnight the following Monday, and covers the investigation into the violent murder of Chrysalis, the owner of Jokertown's Crystal Palace (this can hardly constitute as a spoiler, as it is first mentioned at the beginning of Ace In The Hole and again on the front cover of this book).
The two main characters in this volume are:
Jay Ackroyd, AKA Popinjay (by George R.R. Martin)
Daniel Brennan, AKA Yeoman (by John J. Miller)
On waking on Monday morning from his regular nightmare, Jay Ackroyd's new assignment as Chrysalis' bodyguard gets off to a bad start when he discovers his employer's battered corpse at the Crystal Palace with an ace of spades placed conveniently on top - the calling card of the bow-and-arrow killer, Yeoman. Not trusting the nat police to put too much effort into finding the killer of a joker, Jay sets off to solve the case by himself.
Daniel Brennan, thinking he's escaped the violence for a quieter life in the country, sees the news of his ex-lover's murder on TV (and his implied role in it), and finds himself dragged back into his old life when he, too, chooses to pursue the matter himself and find the person responsible.
In the process of searching for the murderer, Jay bets the farm on finding the missing reporter, Digger Downs; gets sweaty with the ultimate femme fatale; briefly gains a Takisian sidekick; and comes face to face with the hideous Ti Malice. Brennan. meanwhile, takes a trip in the magic kingdom; hears Wyrm's horrible confession; finds unexpected help from the church; and uncovers the secret of Chrysalis' success.
If Ace In The Hole was the 'political thriller', then Dead Man's Hand is the 'detective mystery', and a fine mystery it is too. It hardly knocks Dashiell Hammett off his pedestal (who could?) but it's very enjoyable nonetheless, with all the requisite elements that make up your standard detective story: red herrings a-plenty ("Who the fuck is Doug Morkle?"), hidden clues to the real murderer, and not one, but two hard-boiled shamuses who get lied to, drugged and regularly beaten up as they delve deeper into the mystery. It's just a pity that Chrysalis had to die for it come into being. Always one of the more interesting characters in the series (and a joker, to boot), one can't help but think that there were more tales yet to be told of her life.
Also welcome is Popinjay's elevation to leading man status with this story. Jay's old-school cynicism, exterior glibness and penchant for painful one-liners is a nice, almost retro, addition to a series notable for its reconstructionalist attitude towards heroes, and his subsequent co-starring role in volume 10 also helps make that one as readable as it is.
Both Ackroyd and Brennan make fine foils for each other as self-righteousness seems to come easily to both of them. Nowhere is this more evident than in the climactic face-off, where Brennan's accusation that Ackroyd can afford to be as liberal as he is when all he has to do is point his finger to make a problem disappear (true), is set against Jay's argument that Brennan is a psychotic nutcase (partly true). It must be said that, of the two main characters, Jay comes out of this gleaming in comparison to the somewhat unstable Brennan.
The pace of the book is more streamlined than usual thanks to the fact that only two writers are involved, with the sub-plots kept to a minimum. Of those, the Shadow Fists' race to beat Brennan to Chrysalis's diaries comes second place to the pleasing conclusion to the Ti Malice saga, where Jay's introduction to the monster ends with hero and villain each facing their worst nightmare.
The reason this book exists at all is that Bantam Books balked at the idea of publishing a single volume from the original 1000+ page manuscript submitted, and so the political part of the story was extracted to make Ace In The Hole, while the detective elements were saved for this book - hence the overlapping scenes.
Wraith: 'Did you know that cat?'
Brennan: 'I worked with him once before when he was a mouse.'
Brennan: 'Everyone makes mistakes. The bad forget them. The good try to make up for them.'
Jay Ackroyd: 'You know, Blaise, you are one weird fucking kid'.'
Blaise: 'I'm not a kid. On Takis I'd be leaving the women's quarters.'
Jay Ackroyd: 'Figures. Just when you get old enough to want in, they kick you out.'
Jay Ackroyd: 'I thought you were part Takisian. You guys good for anything but crying?'