Today I read The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente, with illustrations by Tom Fowler.
Comic book artist Mike M isn’t having the greatest Comic Con. His friend and mentor just died, after Mike flew out specifically to present him with a lifetime achievement award. But on the bright side, the jerk editor who slept with his wife is also dead, murdered on the steps of the convention center at midnight right before some cosplayers who were trying to set a world record for the most fans dressed as characters from Dante’s Fire were trying to take their picture. I mean, it’s not great that he’s dead, but he really was a jerk and there isn’t exactly, well, anyone, who’s sorry he’s dead. Including his boss.
On the less bright side, the cops think that Mike killed him. This is really putting a damper on his weekend. How’s a guy supposed to draw commissions with his hands cuffed together?
It’s up to Mike to clear his name and figure out who really killed the editor. And deal with his ex-wife. And find his friend’s missing art. And find the pedal cab driver dressed like Lara Croft. And try not to backstab once-removed the pregnant fellow artist. And watch out for the potentially unstable one-armed fangirl.
This is one exclusive experience Mike doesn’t want to stand in line for…
This review copy was courtesy of Lahring Tribe from Penguin Random House Canada, who was kind enough to send me a copy after I told her how much I love the cover at a library conference. Which I do, it’s adorable, like someone killed a Funko Pop on a staircase full of con exclusives.
I’m a con-running fangirl, though I’ve never attended San Diego Comic Con (one day though, when I have things like vacation days and money…) This book is definitely aimed at people like me, who will recognize the people and shows and situations at least enough to understand the world that Mike is living in, because a con really is it’s own world. Mike’s situation of basically living at cons year-round sounds odd, but I can see how it would work, if you’re willing to live out of your suitcase 365. The con schedule is pretty set, especially for the big ones, it’s year-round these days, and it’s all cash. The setting and the characters are the strong points of this novel, because yes some fans really are that weird (I mean this with affection). Van Lente does a good job of describing the experience of a con from the perspective of someone who works it, as opposed to an attendee.
Unfortunately, the plot isn’t as strong. The murder mystery is missing, well, the mystery part. Mike is suspected of murder by the cops, and he’s trying to clear his name, but he’s a lousy detective. For the reader to follow along with a mystery, you need to sprinkle in your suspects and clues throughout the book, and most of them just get plopped in closer to the end. Everything gets explained without giving the character or the reader the chance to try to figure it out. You don’t suspect the bad guy because he isn’t there to suspect for most of the book.
The interior art is a nice touch, since Mike is constantly sketching out what’s happening. It’s his way of making sense of things and sorting out his thoughts, but it doesn’t add to the mystery aspect, since even on review again afterward I still don’t see any clues in the pictures.
While I enjoy the character of Violent Violet, the one-armed fangirl desperate to meet the creator of her favorite character (her one-armed post-apocalyptic female wrestler namesake), and I would really like a deeper look at fan identification with characters and the creation of diverse characters that people connect with, the one thing I didn’t like is the typical American reliance on guns to save the day. Seriously? Do you people not learn? It’s sheer laziness to just shoot the bad guy, and it’s an Only In America ending.
Nerds, take a look for the con aspects, but mystery fans take a pass.