Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Kiss the Messenger Vol. II by Devin Devine and Tony Russell. (Available HERE)
The Kiss the Messenger series is a crime noir throwback set in Spokane, Washington, with a multiple first-person perspective. In the first book, we are introduced to the problem of girls going missing and while the characters are trying to get to the bottom of the mystery a call girl from the past, Stevie, shows back up in town. Mal—the muscle for the local brothel—and Stevie seem to be in love, but neither one of them is able to demonstrate their feelings. While Mal uses his not-so-legal tactics trying to find the girls, we also see Kent—one of the few honest cops in town—search in his own way. Kent is personally invested because his teenage daughter had gone missing years before. During all this, we are also privy to the politics of running a brothel from an old madam’s perspective.
Authors Devine and Russell do a good job of giving each character their own voice. A trap for a multiple first-person point of view is that all the characters could possibly sound the same. I didn’t encounter this problem while reading the first two volumes of Kiss the Messenger. Mama sounds different than Mal who sounds different than Kent and so on. There is one small interaction where Mal stepped out of character; since it is told in a first-person perspective, we could have gotten an explanation from the character himself, but instead the moment passed without comment which made it ring false. This wasn’t so much a disruption of voice as it was a misstep in actions due to circumstance, and it was a moment that fluttered away while I continued reading.
Art influences art, and at this point I think a lot of people get caught up on originality with a capital O. I hope we can agree that we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants and sometimes it’s refreshing to read or watch something for sheer enjoyment. Part of why I liked John Wick is because it embraced the action genre and set out to make a solid and entertaining movie. Devine and Russell have embraced the noir and crime genre and set out to write an entertaining book. While I read through Volume I, I kept thinking about how Mal reminded me of Marv from Sin City. A bull of a man with a soft spot for the working girl. We’ve seen the characters and situations in Kiss the Messenger before, but that’s okay because the writing duo aren’t trying to break new ground. They’re trying to provide us with a new pulp story that will make people smile and invest in the fun of it. They are doing this with such an honesty that they’re able to avoid being derivative. In recycling the tropes, they have created a breath of fresh air for the reader.
Kiss the Messenger is going to be a five-part series. Volume II is about twice as long as the first and I think as Devine and Russell become more comfortable in the noir world they’ve created the more room they’ll have to play and explore. This works to their benefit because there are certain threads they don’t necessarily have to tie up. They don’t have to wrap each book up, but instead need to make sure there is forward progression in the plot. When we only get one chapter from Kent in the first book, we’re able to trust we’ll see more of this character in later books and that his story will expand. The same goes for any thin spots in the story; I can make the assumption it’s on its way to becoming something larger later on.
At times it feels uneven and incomplete, but that’s because it’s supposed to, and it’s going to feel that way until I’m holding Volume V in my hands. This isn’t to say I dislike the way they’re publishing the story—because I do like it. A lot. It sets it apart from other genre work, and again is aligning itself with the genre by emulating pulp magazines from the past. I could easily see myself tuning into the radio once a week to hear the latest adventures of Mal and Stevie, and I’m excited to keep up to date on this story.