If you're familiar with Duane Swierczynski's prior novels, you don't need me to tell you that FUN & GAMES should be at the top of all crime fiction fans' summer reading lists. The book chronicles the events of a very long and bad day in the life of Charlie Hardie, a professional house sitter who wasn't always so. Hardie was formerly an unofficial "consultant" for the Philadelphia police department, until some very, very bad things happened to him about three years before the events of FUN & GAMES take place.
"...there is enough action, mayhem and blood splatter to fill it and its successors. I have a feeling, though, that Swierczynski is only getting warmed up here."
Now, Hardie criss-crosses the country sitting in vacant houses at the behest of the owners, a job that involves watching many DVDs of old movies. So it is that he finds himself in Hollywood Hills --- fresh off a late flight, in which his checked luggage was lost --- babysitting an "upside down house" while its owner, a session musician, is in Germany. Then the fun begins.
Actually, the fun really begins before all of that, with a once popular and still famous actress known as Lane Madden being chased through the Hollywood Hills in what we learn is a carefully staged effort to make a cold-blooded killing seem like an accident. Madden takes refuge where Hardie is sitting, arriving shortly before he does in a house that they both think will be vacant. They meet each other about a minute or so before the bad folks arrive, and all hell breaks loose.
The people who are after Madden are part of an organization known as The Guild, or, less formally, The Accident People. What The Guild does is stage murders to look like accidents. What better place to find people capable of staging things than in Hollywood? The team assigned to kill Madden, though, runs into a problem they had not anticipated --- that being Hardie. He may be a house sitter, but he possesses a skill set and an intestinal fortitude that makes him extremely formidable.
Madden is perfect as a damsel in distress, but she is not exactly helpless, and she and Hardie make a good team in spite of themselves. Hanging over the proceedings, however, is the question as to why The Guild has been retained to take Madden out; we learn why about two-thirds of the way through the book. The answer is pure cutthroat Hollywood and makes the proceedings even more interesting, setting things up for the sequel to be named later.
FUN & GAMES, however, is (more or less) a complete novel in and of itself, and there is enough action, mayhem and blood splatter to fill it and its successors. I have a feeling, though, that Swierczynski is only getting warmed up here. The end of the book indicates that he has major plans for Hardie and a few of the other principals we encounter on these pages. I can't wait to meet them all, good and bad, down the very fast-moving road that Swierczynski has constructed.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 20, 2011
Fun & Games