You certainly wouldn’t think so from the way events unfold in Con Job, author Jason Ridler’s follow up to Death Match, the book that introduced readers to ex-punk rocker turned indie bookstore clerk and reluctant amateur detective Spar Battersea.
Still reeling from the events in Death Match, including having lost his best friend/roommate and his part time job writing for the local newspaper, Spar finds himself holding on desperately to his position at the bookstore as he tries to put the pieces of his life back together. Unfortunately for Spar, this requires him to work the store’s booth at CosmiCon, a huge sci-fi and comic book convention.
Not exactly a warm and fuzzy people person under the best of circumstances, being surrounded by a bunch of pudgy wookiees, Trekkers, and hobbits isn’t exactly Spar’s cup of tea. Things go from bad to worse when Spar learns he has to babysit an egomaniacal, over-the-hill science fiction writer who’s been contracted to sign at the store’s booth.
Annoyance turns to alarm, however, when Spar learns that his former high school crush, who was supposed to be working at the convention as a “booth babe,” has gone missing under very suspicious circumstances. Spar may “hate most people” but he’s not the kind of guy who turns his back on a friend – or a smoking hot babe – so he sets out to track her down and make sure everything’s ok.
Along the way Spar finds himself butting heads with a pack of vigilante ninjas, a power tripping security guard who’s still carrying a schoolyard grudge, the slimy Hollywood producer of a hit sci-fi series, and a cute comic book/tattoo artist who may just be interested in Spar, but who’s definitely not going to take any of his macho, juvenile shit. Klingons, superheroes, slave girls and sorcerers beware, Spar Battersea’s on the hunt and CosmiCon will never be the same.
I really enjoyed the first Spar book, Death Match, and was anxious going in to see if Ridler would be able to keep the unique groove he found with that book going in this follow up. No worries. Though Con Job‘s story doesn’t have quite the scope as Death Match, and also isn’t as dark in tone, what it lacks in breadth it more than makes up for in character development. Without dropping any spoilers, suffice it to say the things Spar lived through in his first outing were truly horrendous, and Con Job finds him struggling to keep a grasp on his sanity without going off the deep end. And given that his primary foe in Death Match was a sadistic amateur wrestler who took his “gimmick” as a face-painted mime to disturbing lengths, being surrounded by dozens of people at a comic convention dressed like the Joker decidedly does not help Spar’s mental well-being.
To me a Spar Battersea book has the same general feel as the original Beverly Hills Cop in that there’s a great mix of action and comedy. And profanity. A lot of profanity. As the book is told from Spar’s point of view the reader is privy to his internal musings, which tend to be exasperatedly profane when he finds himself in a particularly dangerous or vexing situation. “Fuck me with a ___” is his go to lament, and the reader is treated to nearly two dozen variations on that theme throughout the book. (Secret decoder ring, Jughead’s crown, hula hoop, and hourglass being a few of the standouts.) And despite the fact the story unfolds over the course of a single day and almost entirely at the CosmiCon, Spar still manages to find himself in more than a few nasty fights in the convention facilities’ back rooms and service hallways.
I liked Spar after Death Match, but I love him after Con Job. He’s a guy who wants to do the right thing, but who also won’t hesitate to pull the plug if he feels he’s being used. And while he’s not afraid to throw down and go toe-to-toe, he’s also not Superman and takes as good as he gives (doesn’t really seem fair for a ninja to use a Taser). In short, Spar Battersea is an engaging, believable character, and I can’t wait to see what Jason Ridler has in store for Spar next.
Con Job is available as an e-book at Amazon.