Like its predecessor, this is a fully realized mash-up. Imaginative but grounded sci-fi sprints full-throttle into moody, brooding old-fashioned detective noir.
Juno Mozambe has more issues than there are lizards on the distant planet of Lagarto, where the economy is worse than the sticky weather. He’s got a bum hand, for starters, and all sorts of problems with the past. Brandy, in abundant supply, is a temporary salve. Justice would be better. He was a corrupt cop but now that the ex-chief of police is dead, Juno has been kicked to the curb, no longer part of the police agency known as KOP. “I found good work hiding in closets, peering through windows, exposing scandals when I could and creating scandals when there were none to expose,” says Juno. “It wasn’t glamourous, but the scandal rags paid well. It was a long way down from running KOP but it kept me in the game. Barely.”
Needing money, Juno listens when ex-partner Maggie comes around asking for help. He listens because, well, Maggie isn’t afraid of a little coercion. She is, shall we say, convincing. The start of “Ex-Kop” rocks. Juno strikes a bargain and starts charting his own path back to stability and security. Maybe. Payments for his wife’s artificial spine aren’t cheap. It’s a pay-for-service care situation. His wife is on a respirator in the off-world Orbital, where the medical care is better. She’s arguing to end it all, but Juno won’t hear it.
Juno is asked to help with two cases. One involves clearing a girl accused of murdering her parents. The other involves the possible production of snuff films to entertain “off-worlders.” The plot is rich but easy to track.
The writing makes the whole Lagarto world terribly tangible. “I walked through a doorway into a courtyard covered by a series of tarps that were so pregnant with puddled water that they stretched in all the wrong directions, creating gaping holes in the coverage through which glistening rain came misting down. Souvenir stands ran around the circumference, their spaces overflowing with etched gourds and mini Lagartan-style skiffs made from seedpods. There was a staircase on the far end that led up to a second tier where I could see a window with painted-on jungle vines and tour prices. Standing alongside the door was a stuffed tiger, reared up on its haunches, one of its paws raised like it was about to claw somebody’s heart out.”
That’s a genteel passage, a Disneyland description in comparison with the smashmouth action in much of “Ex-Kop.” There’s a torture scene that will leave you praying for release. The knuckle-hard violence works because the story stays sweat-level close to Juno’s worldview. Of course Juno is not going to earn a badge from the Boy Scouts in morals and ethics anytime soon. Juno sees worse—far worse—including truly evil men with a wicked scheme for those already death row. Like the best anti-heroes, Juno has his own code and his own reasons for every move he makes. More than few times, I thought of Andrew Vachss and his books featuring Burke and his lone-soldier crusade against those who prey on children. In both storylines, the ends justify the tactics. Juno is one pissed-off snake in a nasty nest of vicious vipers.
There’s ample recap material in this sequel, but to get the full effect start with “Kop” so you fully understand Juno’s world. And his issues.
On to “Kop Killer.”