BOOK REVIEW: Blonde On Blonde

blonde.jpgThe Blonde
by Duane Swierczynski
(St. Martin’s Minotaur. $23.95)
From the opening line of Duane Swierczynski’s crime novel, The Blonde, you know you’re in for a wild ride. “I poisoned your drink,” says the titular blonde to Jack Eisley, a print journalist in Philadelphia to sign his divorce papers. Kelly White — The Blonde in question — has been infected with a deadly new technology, nanomachines, which have been designed to make privacy virtually obsolete. If there isn’t someone within 10 feet of Kelly at all times, she will die. Even more unnerving is that these nanomachines are transmitted via bodily fluids, so person-to-person contact is risky at best. Pretty dire, huh? What to do? What to do?

Well, if you are Kelly, you poison Jack with a “luminous toxin” that only she has the antidote to, in the hopes of keeping him by her side. In fighting for her own life, Kelly doesn’t quite grasp the nanomachines’ full ability to destroy humanity until she’s already caused the deaths of several men she bedded.

At the same time, Homeland Security officer and Mafioso killer Mike Kowalski has been ordered by the government to locate both a missing scientist and Kelly White for reasons unbeknownst to him. The connection? Nanomachines, of course. In his spare time, Kowalski exacts his revenge on the South Philadelphia branch of La Cosa Nostra for murdering his wife and unborn child. Once Kowalski begins his search, he will stop at nothing to complete his mission. What ensues is a fast-paced game of cat and mouse in the city of Philadelphia.

The novel moves at a breakneck speed between the two plot lines; Swiercynski marks the time at the beginning of each chapter, and oftentimes, only a few seconds have elapsed between chapters.

While The Blonde’s structure mirrors the intense speed of the plot, there are times when the reader wants Swierczynski to slow down. His writing is plain, economical and straight as an arrow. This probably owes as much to the writer’s journalistic background as to a love of hard-boiled noir fiction, but at times you’re wishing for more background information — some even gorier details. Swierczynski does manage to incorporate everything from corrupt government agents, dental floss beheadings and mutual masturbation clubs, to adulterous wives, a determined gumshoe and Lil’ Pete’s diner. As the editor of Philadelphia City Paper, Swiercynski knows the city inside and out, details he flaunts in The Blonde. The landmarks he chose for this late-night romp will no doubt amuse Philadelphians. On the whole, The Blonde is an easy and entertaining read, but the ending simply didn’t satisfy. I breezed through the pages towards the climax, bracing myself for an international nanomachine showdown, and instead found pop culture references to Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie. Not exactly the sinister and satisfying finale I hoped for. Still, Swierczynski knows how to keep his readers hooked: the twisted-pretzel plot turns and a palpable sense of time accelerating into a race to the apocalypse made it nearly impossible to put down.

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