Warren Hammond – “Kop”

"Kop" is the first of three in the series, including "Ex-Kop" and "Kop Killer."

“Kop” is the first of three in the series, including “Ex-Kop” and “Kop Killer.”

Start “Kop” and you will feel right at home in a dark story of dirty justice, mean streets, creepy thugs and embedded corruption. These streets just happen to be on a planet named Lagarto where the reptiles, both the human and animal variety, tend to get their way. My reading list skews to earthbound mysteries so my credentials at reviewing sci-fi (mash up or straight up) are dubious. But Warren Hammond built a mucky murky world up there on the Lagarto and then imagined a rip-roaring plot with the gravitational pull of Jupiter. I was sucked right in. The clue-finding is as solid as the world building.

Our tour guide is Juno Mozambe and he is part of the force trying to keep order in the sagging civilization, where laws and justice are uncertain commodities. Except Juno Mozambe is no Boy Scout. He’s an enforcer. He’s got a role in one effort to return Lagarto to its glory days and, as such, he’s not opposed to collaborating with a murderous crime lord. Or two. He has found a way to ignore the “flames of hell” licking at his feet. In short, he’s utterly human.

Lagarto was once a thriving little planet. But its status declined when brandy tree saplings were smuggled “offplanet.” Lagarto is now overgrown, quite literally, as a jungle. In the squalid mess that’s left, cartels and crime bosses have moved in. The rivers are sewers. Geckos scurry everywhere. Large lizards abound. (If there is a better action fight sequence out there involving a monitor lizard, I’d like to read it.) You feel sticky and hot just turning the pages. “Kop” might include a pinch of “Apocalypse Now” and a dash of “Chinatown,” but Lagarto is its own blender of Hammond’s nicely warped reality.

Like any good mystery, “Kop” starts with a murder—a throat-slashing attack in a back alley. Juno picks up the blood trail. He also picks up, over his objections, a young and inexperienced female partner. In bits and pieces, we are shown the Lagarto lifestyle. We are given a nifty flashback about Juno’s wife. (As characters, both the rookie female cop Maggie and Juno’s wife Niki neatly toy with standard clichés.)

Juno knows someone is always looking for an angle. In the case of “Kop,” the back-alley murder leads to unravelling a big-picture, planet-sized plot. It’s a doozie. And it works.

“Kop” offers a cool mash-up of heavy noir and calm, clear-eyed sci-fi. “Kop” put Lagarto out there in the universe. And you know what? I’ll be back. (Heard that in a sci-fi movie somewhere.)