Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Exploding Detective

Yesterday I finished reading The Exploding Detective by John Swartzwelder. It's the continuing saga of bumbling detective Frank Burly. Actually his name is Edward R Torgeson Jr, but he changed it for business because he thought that you should have a tough sounding name if people are going to hire you as a private detective. He wanted prospective clients to feel he was a burly kind of man, the kind of man who would have the strength and endurance to solve their cases for them, and also be frank with them at all times.

Anyway, the story is told from the first person, it's entirely Frank relating his adventures to you. He's not very bright, and despite the name, he's not very tough either, and so he always has trouble drumming up business. In this book he purchases a jet pack from the back of a comic book and changes the name on all his business cards to "The Flying Detective" thinking that more people would hire him since he can solve their cases faster. Unfortunately he doesn't really know how to fly and ends up crashing a lot. Because of this the tabloids dub him "The Exploding Detective", possibly a more fitting name.

Well, without giving away too much of the plot, a supervillain has begun menacing the city and after crashing in the middle of one of his heists and inadvertantly foiling it, Frank becomes a hero in the city and is hired by the mayor and chief of police to help fight crime and the supervillain. That's when the story starts getting a little wackier. There is time travel, doomsday devices, Abraham Lincoln clones, Napolean clones, and British super spies.

And honestly, the book is just kind of so-so. It had it's moments, but it wasn't as funny as I'd hoped. But since it's only about 140 pages, it's a quick read and never drags or gets boring. There is enough comedy in it to make it worthwhile. And just to give you a small taste of what to expect, here is one of the parts that struck me as particularly amusing: "So my career as the flying detective was over. And it was only chapter five. It was with a trace of sadness that I packed away my costume, my extra pairs of underwear, and my junior grappling hooks. They were useless now, except for whatever historical importance they might have." But fear not, the story does not end in chapter five, it continues on.

Including The Time Machine Did It, which also involved time travel, I've now read 2 of the books about Frank Burly. I think I liked The Exploding Detective better, but since The Time Machine Did It introduced Frank Burly, you might be better off starting with that one so you have some background on the character before reading any of the others. I'm also planning on reading the other book featuring Frank - How I Conquered Your Planet - but the library doesn't have a copy of that so I don't know where I'm going to find it. I'm thinking about reading Swartzwelder's other book too - Double Wonderful - even though it is unrelated to the other 3. If you've got a copy of either of those, please loan it to me.
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