Just when you thought there was nothing fun left to read, detective and vigilante Jack Vane returns in what may be his most surprising adventure yet. Author Jeffrey Friedberg is known for his social commentary in his novels, depicted through humor and hard-hitting truths about what may at times be considered the stupidity, or simply, the ridiculousness of the American people as they allow their country to be taken over by politicians with agendas that don’t support the nation’s founding principles. But in Kill the Media, perhaps Friedberg has gone too far….Wait! No way—going a tad too far is what I love about Friedberg’s writing.
In past novels, Jack Vane was accused of killing members of the media. This time, a new killer, building on past incidents, is out to frame Jack Vane as a killer. The Media-Killer first shows up as an old man with a walker who sets off a bomb at a political event at the New Mexico Statehouse — an awards dinner to honor “the notorious TV personality Bill Mars, a small, pale, no longer funny man who had once been entertaining, but was now merely bitter and envious.”
Following the explosion, the killer’s manifesto is discovered, demanding “complete media honesty in reporting or more will die.” The killer was obviously disguised since, not long after, he is seen skydiving to kill a left-wing female comedian. Because some law enforcement officials think only Jack Vane would have the skills and know-how to commit such crimes, Jack must clear his name and learn the killer’s identity before the Media-Killer strikes again.
Set against the backdrop of a political election in which a white, Jewish left-wing president is seeking reelection against a black, female, right-wing Muslim candidate, Kill the Media holds back no punches. Friedberg is known for his sharp, tight prose-style, mixed with a dose of sarcastic, political humor. Here is a short example from the political awards dinner scene, as seen through the eyes of the Media-Killer, who is about to set off his explosive walker:
Now the hero, the champion — the old man in the worn sweater pushing his walker — closed in on his targets. He calculated that the President would be here very soon.
He observed that the Vice President and First Lady were in deep and respectful conversation with Bill Mars as if discussing a cure for cancer that Mars alone possessed. Around them clustered transfixed politicians and elites trying to touch invisible insect feelers to each other and exchange excited chemical signals for profit and power.
He knew they would stay huddled that way in a group, like a bait-ball of swarming fish until the President arrived.
He hobbled on, unnoticed, through the roped-off mass of serfs, slowly pushing his rolling-walker before him. But his eyes never moved from the quarry, like a lioness stalking in tall grass.
He got into position for the swarm of targets.
He lined his walker up and set the handbrake.
He was ready.
Now is a good time….
He pressed a hidden button.
He stepped away from the high-tech weapon.
The walker fired a vast, directed torrent of steel—thousands of serrated projectiles—and the entire press corps vanished in a cloud of blood and meat.
As if Jack Vane doesn’t have enough to do on this case, his old friend, mafia boss Yaakov Irgun, has asked him to keep an eye on two teenagers, siblings, who survived the 2004 tsunami, lost their parents, and have only dim memories of their past lives. The sister, Mari-Morgaine, is in Jack’s face all the time, calling him a “fascist pig” and “pinko commie” in public places. Fortunately, Jack gets along better with her brother, Edward, a 17-year-old genius physicist who wants Jack to help him find the remains of the Hell-bomb (featured previously in Friedberg’s novel “Red, White, and Dead Again”) and figure out how it worked.
And as if that still weren’t enough, Jack has his old girlfriend, bipolar Amazon-size female cop Desdemona Warchovski on his case, prepared to frame him as the murderer, to get revenge for how he had broken up with her in the past, and allowing the love she still feels for him, yet denies, to fuel all her actions.
But a bigger surprise exists in Kill the Media than perhaps in any of Friedberg’s novels. I don’t want to say too much and give it away, but let’s just say that throughout his novels, Friedberg has dropped many hints about Jack Vane’s past when seven years before he showed up drunk and lost in Albuquerque and was befriended by Yaakov Irgun. And it turns out, Irgun knows far more about Jack’s past than Jack does himself. There’s a good reason why Irgun has protected and used Jack so often — because Jack is ultimately “good” and he has a very special ancestry and destiny awaiting him. We are only given a hint of this unique identity at the novel’s end, but I hope it is one that will be explored in future novels.