Caspar Vega must be an interesting character. His books are a bizarre mixture of fantasy/horror and crime drama. Many of his characters are not the kind of people you’d want to live next door to or even meet. They range from anti-social to sociopath to worse. And his books are never linear. They track back and forth in time and place and skip from voice to voice in unexpected directions.
I’ve read and reviewed two other books by Caspar Vega, “The Pink Beetle” and the “The Eclectic Prince.” And after each one I confirm both to myself and to my readers that Mr. Vega’s stories are way outside my wheelhouse. Not that I only read or enjoy light-hearted fare. I enjoy horror and even crime drama. But there is something nihilistic about the atmosphere in these stories that is off-putting for me. I must be getting old.
But here I am again. I decided to try out Southern Dust. The premise of the story is that in the near future the Democrats assassinate a Republican president and install one of their own through chicanery. In response, a revolt in Alabama breaks the state away from the Union. And in short order a good number of other states also declare their independence. This story follows the fates of three individuals that collide in this strange new world.
Along with the other suppositions of this world are super soldiers, vampires and black magic. But the mainstay of the story are the characters. And they live up to the type that I remember from Mr. Vega’s earlier books. Even the good guys are very troubled individuals. The criminals on the other hand can be at least somewhat sympathetic but brutality is their stock in trade. Murder for hire, framing up ex-girlfriends and bounty hunting all occur but brain-washed undead is probably the weirdest plot device you run into. And even when one of the characters tries to do a good deed it boomerangs back on him in the classic no good deed goes unpunished catergory.
I’ll finish my review of this book much as I’ve done with its predecessors, with a mixed message. This is an interesting book. But it’s not for everyone. It’s for those who like gritty crime dramas with a staccato, post-modern, minimalist writing style. Your call.
Back on March 14th 2017 I reviewed favorably Mr. Vega’s novella “The Pink Beetle”. That was the third installment of his “The Young Men in Pain Quartet Book Series.” The Eclectic Prince is the first installment but the grouping is only thematic and not sequential so you may sample in any order. As I noted in my earlier book review, Mr. Vega has a very distinct writing style. He makes sudden transitions and violent plot shifts. His characters are not introspective but very impulsive and action oriented. The plot progresses rapidly but rarely linearly.
The first piece of information to convey is that this is an adult book. There is a fair amount of sexual content that would be entirely inappropriate for even teenagers (in my opinion). And there are some situations that are fairly disturbing from the point of view of conventional social mores.
Now for some personal information as a point of reference on my taste in books. Full disclosure, I’m not typically a consumer of dark fiction. I mostly inhabit the sunnier climes of story-telling. I will indulge in something like Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs if it’s very well written but it’s not my usual fare.
The Eclectic Prince is relatively dark. There aren’t any good guys to cheer. The protagonist at various times indulges in violent assault of a stranger and murder of a family friend. And there are even darker doings that I will not mention so as not to spoil the story. Suffice it to say he’s not such a nice guy. And he’s not even justified in the sense that he’s getting revenge on someone who committed a terrible wrong against him. He’s just a sociopath.
The outline of the story is episodic and consists of different vignettes that are tied together by the fantasy mechanism that underlines the story. This mechanism isn’t entirely clear from the text and this vagueness adds to the seeming randomness of the plot.
Let me sum it up. It’s a dark disturbing story of an unsympathetic protagonist, a kind of story that I would not typically choose to read.
But it’s well written, original and engaging in a transgressive way. Once again Mr. Vega is in the tradition of a noir type story with a fantasy framework to remove the bizarre story from the realm of reality. This allows some justification for suspending a very heavy bias against such a disagreeable protagonist. For those who seek out this type of story I can wholeheartedly recommend it. It is not for the faint of heart.
I haven’t decided whether to delve deeper into his quartet. This type of story is, as I stated above, not my typical choice. But maybe when I’m in a darker mood I’ll venture in again for another dose.
The Pink Beetle is a novella (it says it’s about a hundred pages) published independently by author Caspar Vega. It’s listed in the sf&f category but I think I’d call it a noir or mystery story. Mr. Vega is on Gab and I’m interested in things that aren’t sanctioned by the mainstream institutions so I figured I’d give it a try.
Well, it’s definitely different. I think the best way to describe this story is staccato. There is no attempt to use smooth transitions between scenes in the story. There are no bridge elements between the wildly different sections of the book. Beyond this the writing style is extremely spare. The scenes are like sketches. It is minimalist.
With respect to influences on the story I’d say noir is the strongest. Who is this book for? Well I can say who it’s not for. Anyone who is looking for a refined, highly structured literary story does not want The Pink Beetle. This is more like a two-reeler that went before the main attraction at your local movie house when my parents were kids.
So, did I like it? Yeah, I did. He’s got three other books in “The Young Men in Pain Quartet Book Series” and I think I’ll try another one soon. But this is definitely one of those yes or no things. If you don’t go in expecting something that’s more than a little odd and different, you’ll be disappointed. And who knows, even if you are it still might not be your cup of tea.
The Eclectic Prince by Caspar Vega – A Short Book Review