That Which Unravels: The Readymade Thief

The Readymade Thief by Augustus RoseThe Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose

Published: August 1st, 2017
Publisher: Viking
Genre(s): Adventure, Thriller, Mystery
Format: Hardcover
Length: 384 pages

I originally picked up The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose because the cover caught my eye, but the summary and a few blurbs from some of my favorite authors finished the sale. I started reading it soon after I bought it, and loved the first half so much that I enthusiastically recommended it to several people. Unfortunately, the latter half of the book feels messy, and the ending is a bit unsatisfying. I would still recommend it, but not without a few caveats.

The main character, Lee, is an intelligent and resourceful girl who finds herself backed into a life on the run after a series of mistakes and personal betrayals. Lee is the main reason the book works as well as it does for as long as it does; she’s a sympathetic and compelling character trying to find her way in the world under impossible circumstances. It also helps that I love stories about secret societies and histories that exist just out of view, and a character forced into the margins of society is the perfect person to explore that kind of world.

Like most high schoolers, Lee dreams of going to college, but she builds her funds by shoplifting and selling her classmates the goods. When the school finds her best friend’s drugs in Lee’s locker, she takes the fall and ends up in juvie. After a few excruciating months of bullying and stress, Lee escapes, and that’s when things get interesting.

Now homeless and friendless, Lee falls on the mercy of a strange organization called the Société Anonomie. They’re mostly known for throwing wild parties and dressing up in antiquated clothing, but they also run a house for homeless runaways where Lee winds up when she needs somewhere to sleep. It isn’t long before she discovers something more sinister going on at the SA house. In her haste to escape, she steals an object precious to the SA, and spends the rest of the book trying to decide what to do next. Should she run, fight, or give back what she stole in the hope that they’ll leave her alone?

There are a lot of things I loved about The Readymade Thief, which is why I’m sad that it doesn’t stick the landing. My favorite parts are when Lee is living in the houses of people on vacation, going on night-time excursions to abandoned places with her new friend Tomi and trying to figure out why the SA wants a stolen Duchamp readymade. Trying to solve a mystery is almost always the most engaging part.

I started having problems with the book when it became obvious that Lee could probably give back the Duchamp and the SA would leave her alone, but the story kept manufacturing reasons for her to stay invested. The real problem is that Lee doesn’t have a driving, personal reason to stop the SA. All she wants is for everyone to leave her alone so that she can live her life. She’s an interesting character, but she isn’t a crusading hero-type. The best she can manage is a quest for vengeance, but her plans all fall apart because she keeps doing stupid things without thinking.

The hoariest cliché arrives during the climax, when Lee finally confronts the villain. He monologues for pages, helpfully connecting the dots and explaining his organization’s true motivations. That device rarely works without feeling heavy-handed, and here it just misses the mark.

The best parts of The Readymade Thief help make up for its flaws, but the one downside of a shaky ending is that it’s the last thing you remember about a book. That’s probably why my criticisms are still so fresh in my mind. Even so, The Readymade Thief is worth a read, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for future books by Augustus Rose.


Amazon | Audible | Book Soup | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound

Empty Inside: The Beauty, Volume 1

The Beauty Volume 1The Beauty, Volume 1

Story By: Jeremy Haun & Jason A. Hurley
Art By: Jeremy Haun
Published: March 16, 2016
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Horror, Thriller, Mystery
Format: Paperback
Length: 164 pages

The Beauty Volume 1 has one cool idea and not much else: there is a new sexually transmitted disease that makes you beautiful. If you contract it, you become young, thin and pretty within minutes. The only apparent side effect is a constant low-level fever, so people go out of their way to get infected. It isn’t long before half the population has The Beauty.

There are factions who object to The Beauty for political and religious reasons, but the real problem is that people with The Beauty are starting to spontaneously combust and nobody knows why. When a woman combusts in public, two police detectives (one of them infected) try to find an explanation. They face opposition from government officials trying to cover it up and a shady pharmaceutical CEO who just wants to make a profit. The story turns into a by-the-numbers conspiracy thriller/mystery after only a few pages.

One of my biggest problems with The Beauty is that I didn’t care about the main characters at all. They are generic pretty people who only want to Solve The Crime And Stop The Conspiracy. Neither of them has an identifiable personality and their dialog is basically interchangeable.

The villains get slightly more characterization and/or back story, if only because we see them doing things that aren’t necessarily related to the case at hand. That doesn’t mean their motivations are clear, however.

One villain wears a skull mask and eviscerates his victims to show that he’s obviously a very bad dude, but his appearances in the story are all gore and no tension because his actions feel utterly impersonal.

When I finished reading this volume, I had to check to find out if it was a mini-series or an ongoing title. It felt like a complete (if underdeveloped) story, so I wanted to know if my instincts were correct. It turns out that it is an ongoing series even though the sixth issue wraps up a lot of threads and ends with a note of finality.

One thing I did like about The Beauty was the art. It has a clean, realistic style that emphasizes the absurd horror of spontaneous combustions. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t give the art much to work with, so the book feels slight and generic.

After reading so many disappointing comics with boilerplate stories and undeveloped characters, it’s starting to feel like a problem with the medium. There are exceptional writers like Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky and Brian K. Vaughan working in comics, but the ability to fully develop a character in a few panels seems like a rare talent.

Unfortunately, The Beauty doesn’t deliver on the clever idea at its core because the characters are personality-free and generic.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

Amazon | Book Soup | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound | Comixology

Mind MGMT, Volume 1: The Manager by Matt Kindt

Mind Mgmt 1 - Matt Kindt & Brendan WrightPublished: April 3rd, 2013
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Genre(s): Graphic Novel
Format: Hardcover
Length: 200 pages

The most striking thing about Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT is the art style, done with loose pen and watercolor sketches. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before in a graphic novel, and definitely gives the book a unique flavor. I will admit, however, that although the art is interesting, it isn’t entirely to my personal taste. I like that Kindt did something original with his style, but I had a hard time accepting the art as a stylistic choice instead of something that just felt a bit amateurish. A variant cover by Gilbert Hernandez included at the end of the book made me wish for a version of this story told using Hernandez’ clear, bold style instead.

As for the book’s story, it focuses on an investigative journalist named Meru who is trying to write a follow-up to her bestselling first book after two years with no success and dwindling funds. When she hears a recap of a story about a strange “amnesia flight” where all the passengers lost – and never regained – their memories, Meru calls her agent and suggests it as the topic of her second book. Her agent is skeptical, but agrees to fund a trip to Mexico for Meru to investigate a possibly connected event and try to track down a missing member of the amnesia flight, a man named Henry Lyme.

Throughout the book, an unnamed stranger dispassionately narrated Meru’s adventures, claiming she is following a series of “breadcrumbs” left behind to point her in the right direction. Everything Meru does seems pre-ordained, and she finds herself unable to escape ever-present feelings of déjà vu, or the CIA agents and unkillable couple who follow her every move. Each chapter of the book includes a case file on an individual with supernatural powers recruited by a mysterious agency called Mind Management. The more Meru uncovers, the more it becomes clear that Mind Management is the source of it all. All of this strangeness converges in a meeting between Meru and the man named Henry Lyme.

Although the story is full of interesting concepts, it feels like the tone of the narration keeps everything at arm’s length. Character development is minimal, and the dialogue is all very one-note. Henry Lyme’s story is the most interesting part of the book, but in the end I didn’t get very invested because the characters felt like tools of the plot and not real human beings. This is the first volume of an ongoing series, but I’m not sure where the story might go from here; the book wraps up enough that this could serve as a standalone story.

Overall, I thought the book was a decent enough read, but I don’t plan on reading further volumes of this series.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

Amazon | BookPeople | Indiebound