I’ve only read one other in the August Riordan series. The Big Wake-Up was a hard-charging five-hour energy boost set on the sometimes mean, sometimes funny streets of San Francisco. That tale involved the preserved body of Eva Peron and heavy doses of August Riordan’s wry take on the universe.
Riordan is back in No Hard Feelings and it was a snap to slip back into the groove and devour this one like an apple fritter at Bob’s Donuts.
The San Francisco backdrop is in full force again (this one starts with on the Golden Gate Bridge) but No Hard Feelings ventures off to Nevada and then to California wine country for the big finish.
Looking for something different? How about a book that features photos that set the mood for each chapter? All 34 of them? Photos, in fact, shot by the writer? Anyone who follow Coggins on Facebook or Twitter knows he’s a master at the street candid with his moody black-and-white portraits. He’s also an award-winning photographer (with a book to prove it, too). Here, the shots are still-life: objects, landscapes, buildings. Again, black and white. Great idea. Kudos to Down & Out Books for going along with or encouraging this design.
Speaking of down and out, there’s August Riordan and a woman named Winnie. It’s hard to get much lower than Winnie’s state of mind in the opening sentence: “When she got to San Francisco and found that August Riordan wasn’t there, she decided to kill herself.” She stares at the “lumpy ocean” far below and thinks through her options. If she jumps from the Golden Gate, she’s almost certain she’ll feel nothing at all.
In fact, Winnie has no feeling below her neck. But thanks to “experimental technology” developed by her husband, she can walk. But then Winnie realizes one flaw in her plan. If she lives or dies from the jump, nothing will change in efforts of her enemy, a guy named The Winemaker, to “harvest the last few secrets” of how it works.
So she goes to look for August Riordan, who lives in a trailer park at the base of Mount San Jacinto. “The sheathing and the trailer itself were painted pink, and the concrete in the carports was stained forest green. The ‘lawn’ in front consisted of a semicircle of dirt that extended out from the dented aluminum skirt of the trailer. River rocks, weeds, and a half-buried truck tire were the only things that broke the chalklike surface of the dry desert soil.” Winnie finds Riordan in the carport simultaneously lifting weights and downing shots of whiskey. That’s our boy. Clearly, Winnie and Riordan have had interactions prior to the action in No Hard Feelings (Coggins slips in plenty of backstory) and Winnie feels obligated to warn Riordan that the wheelchair-bound Winemaker and his henchmen might soon be coming after him, too. She knows that if there was one person the Winemaker hates more than her, it’s Riordan.
Before Riordan can finish his whiskey or “workout,” the chase is on. First, Riordan enlists the help of a former aircraft engineer named Ray. He’s a ham radio enthusiast who lives in a nearby trailer at the same “park.” Ray agrees to conduct an on-the-spot electronic surgery on Winnie’s implant. This scene goes a long way in covering the ins and outs of Winnie’s particular situation with her nerves and physical feelings, as well as the technology in question. She’s mostly mechanical; only her faces reveals expressions and moods. (A helpful author’s note from Coggins explains that the technology to restore mobility in spinal cord injury patients is real but not quite as far along as the plot here requires.)
The exchanges between Winnie and Riordan are delicious and sarcastic. They bristle and jab at each other. And occasionally bite. And then, well, other “feelings” emerge. They briefly stop hiding behind each other’s “cutting remarks.” Winnie and Riordan make for a bawdy, spunky pair.
After a hilarious scene at a unique brothel, the chase leads around California before a major showdown at a winery. There are pipe bombs, drones, shotguns, and a couple of thugs named Sergy and Anatoly. All along is our hero with an equal interest in doing what’s right and staying alive. He’s a Budweiser-sipping action hero for the real people, those with artificial parts or not. And then Ray shows up with toys and tools to complete the odd-trio attack squad.
Winnie ends up where the book started—staring out at the water. She’s thinking about her choices and what she can and cannot feel, both inside and out. The ending is ragged, open-ended and real.
No Hard Feelings is the perfect title for a funny book with a rip-roaring plot. Along the way, it makes a few winning points about what makes us human—or not.
Previously reviewed: The Big Wake-Up