Thursday, February 25, 2016

FLOODGATE :: Johnny Shaw

When the ocean rages around you and you don't even have a set of arm floaties, you don't have to think. You just have to swim.

Auction City has a violent history. In the Gang Wars of 1929 (the Flood), warring factions came close to destroying it altogether, until representatives from each group formed a vigilante force called Floodgate to quell the violence. Since then, Floodgate has been working behind the scenes to keep the peace. In 1986, former cop Andy Destra is waging a war against the corrupt department that blacklisted him. Little does he know he's stirring up a hornet's nest, the likes of which hasn't been seen since 1929, and Floodgate will once again need to rise to the challenge of saving the city.

Johnny Shaw's genius shines most brightly in his humor and family relationships, both of which are evident in Floodgate. That said, this epic and mythological work is much different than Shaw's prior offerings. Alternating between the Flood of 1929 and the ultra-violent yet madcap conflict of 1986, Floodgate is more grand in scope and themes and difficult to impossible to describe aptly. It's part comic book/graphic novel (it would make a fantastic graphic novel, someone get on that!), part procedural, part Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, part Quentin Tarantino.

Andy Destra is one of several "main" characters, but he's the force that pulls the narrative along. Because he can't let his situation lie, he is the string that ties Auction City's past to its present. Despite being warned off in various ways by multiple people, including his own beloved caretaker, Andy ends up neck-deep in the rising.
He never knew if he was stupid or diligent, but he couldn't let even the smallest mystery go...Her appearance was just the kind of question that kept Andy up at night. Until he replaced the question mark with a period, he couldn't let it go. Andy didn't have hobbies - no ships in a bottle or crochet for him. He had fixations. He had obsessions. He connected things.
Shaw is not above using his protagonist to poke fun at his genre:
It was times like this when a drinking problem, a recent divorce, or an estranged child would have come in handy. Wasn't that every ex-cop's story? If he had one of those issues, his descent into conspiracy nut would have been socially accepted. There was nothing like a destructive past to give a man carte blanche to take a trip to Crazyville.

Told in alternating narratives (written in distinctly different yet equally fabulous styles) set during the Flood and 1986, Floodgate is compelling reading that ultimately connects Auction City's violent past with its violent present, binding them with the people battling against the forces of evil; families of blood, families of convenience, families of necessity. Johnny's writing on relationships is always at the top of my list, and this work is no exception on that count.

Filled with unique and compelling human (and human-ish) characters (including a giant, bald, Bible-wielding, soup-can-chucking black woman, the one-armed female leader of a gang of misfit "brokens" [tons of kickass women characters, really], sewer-dwelling cannibals, a literate troll, and countless others), one of the best characters is Auction City itself.

Shaw has done a fantastic job at world-building, creating a city full of life (and death) and a history so colorful it can only be referred to as psychedelic. I could picture the scenes he was writing about, it felt like I was looking down at Auction City, and I'm not generally a reader who is captivated by place. I can count on not many fingers the number of authors who have made me really care about PLACE. Johnny Shaw just went on that list. I could see, hear, and taste Auction City, and it is a corker of a place to spend time.

STREET SENSE: If you love good world-building, comics, police procedurals, or madcap antics, this fantastic mashup is something you must try. Infused with humor and meaning, it's a four-bagger. Extra points to Johnny Shaw for another McMillan & Wife reference (and Switch to boot!). At least this time you didn't disrespect that classic television masterpiece, Shaw.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: Oh, so many.  Here's just one:

He cracked a smile. Except for the old-lady mystery novels that Champ read (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme & Punishment, anyone?), Andy couldn't think of an industry that embraced wordplay more joyously than pornography did. If not for the rampant drug addiction, abhorrent history of exploitation, and the fluids, it would be quaint.

COVER NERD SAYS: Johnny's books have all had fantastic covers, and Floodgate is no exception even though it is, like its innards, much different than the others. I love the graphic style and coloring, which feeds my dream that this be made into a movie (along the lines of Sin City, perhaps?) or graphic novel. Great stuff.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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