Reviewed by Robert Runté
Chris Lewis is the pseudonym for an award-winning, independently-published, Canadian SF&F author you’ve likely never heard of, but whom I have been following for years. I love his serious fantasy series which feature unique world-building, clever plotting, and often thoughtful themes that get one thinking about current issues. Great stuff! I probably don’t need to tell you this is not one of those. The cover art and title should telegraph that this is pure escapism, a colorized, disco version of a 1940s who-done-it with the hard-boiled detective, the dame who walks back into his life, and a mystery played out mostly in bars. Think Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, with Sydney Greenstreet as the corrupt mayoralty candidate. It’s corny, predictable, and wonderful.
Set on Commerce Station, somewhere the far side of Mars, it’s fair to classify this as SF, though there is no hint of that on the cover or in much of the action. If I had a criticism of Trouble Wore Red, it’s that the futuristic element is a little thin. People still use cellphones to text, virtual assistants are about the same as software currently on my phone, bars still have bar tenders, and room service still costs too much. A couple of global word changes and it could as easily be read as New York or Chicago: urban, gangsters, bars. But none of that is important to the plot or characters.
The action is straightforward: A private investigator, against his better judgement, takes on a case from his ex-girlfriend. A person (or persons) unknown, have been breaking into her office and tearing it apart looking for something. She doesn’t know what they’re after, but they’ve trashed the place and our hero isn’t going to allow that. Who they are, what are they after and why, keeps things clicking along at a good pace, while our hero tries to keep his relationship with his ex strictly professional.
I loved Lewis’ take on the hard-boiled detective. Robert (“Rocky”) Mountain is desperate to recapture his youth, but he’s starting to feel his age, his twenty-something assistant thinks he’s ancient, and he can’t believe how people dress these days. As I await my hip-replacement, I totally identified with Rocky’s aches and pains and his general recognition he has to slow down, even as he refuses to do so. The woman in red is suitably mysterious, dangerous, and irresistible. Rocky’s partner is ex-special forces, shadowy, and super capable. The villain is . . . seriously, it's Sydney Greenstreet. Throw in a crowd of old friends and a newly recruited sidekick and you get a rollicking adventure with the perfect balance of mystery, romance, and dry humor.
There is nothing here to challenge the reader, to threaten the status quo, nothing traumatic or soul searching—just pure, unbridled fun. The book took me out of myself and away from my problems for a few hours, like a good action movie, romcom, or sci-fi is supposed to. This is the book you need to read right after being traumatized by the late-night news or coming up for air after reading one too many literary works. Escapism at its finest.
I hope Chris Lewis comes up with a bunch more books in this series because everyone needs a break from their day. . . and, I’m guessing, the latest upsurge of Covid.
Trouble Wore Redis published by Krista D. Ball.