Welcome back for the second week of our indie book celebration month. After I’d finished last week’s deep dive into the realm of fantasy, I started wanting to try something a little more modern next. I found a good fit for that craving in Mayday: A Kaiju Thriller by Chris Strange. As with last week, I won’t bother rehashing a plot when you can read the author’s own summary for yourself. It’s a tale where kaiju are not only real, but an ever-looming threat in a world that’s seen how destructive they can be. Despite all the trappings of an action piece, which this definitely is, the story itself is a mystery, styled in a blatant throwback to the pulp noir detective pieces of old. It’s an interesting mixing of genres, and I wasn’t sure it would work, but I’ll be damned if the two didn’t mesh surprisingly well.
Where It Shines
I have to say, Chris Strange did a wonderful job building atmosphere with this book. That, more than any other element, stands out to me even in the weeks since I actually read the novel. From the beginning, there’s an inherent tension to the setting we’re presented with. This is a battle-scarred world, one where humanity has seen how easily it can be wiped out, and the effects of that really resonate throughout the story. It’s even more impressive because, as tense as things open, they escalate well as more plot unfolds, until you genuinely feel the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
The book also does a good job with conjuring the right feel of the old-school detective novels. Despite the fantasy setting, the main character (Jay Escobar) seems like he could have been plucked from the grime-covered streets of any classic gumshoe’s tale. Smart, pragmatic, and surly at the right times. As a mystery, the story holds up well as a whole. There are constant twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, to the point where you really don’t know how things will end, or if the humans will even win. The stakes are firmly established and feel very real, which is vital to both a horror tale and a mystery novel, and which the book pulls off quite nicely.
Where it Could Improve
As much as I just praised Jay Escobar as a character that does an excellent job of encapsulating his genre, the truth is there are times when he’s a little too spot on as a vintage detective. While the throwback is nice to establishing a tone and genre for the book, Jay is such a carbon copy of the old-school detectives that he comes off thin as a character, feeling instead more like a piece of scenery. I kept waiting for some modern update or addition that would distinguish Jay from the mental cardboard cutout of a PI we all have, but it never arrived. If he were a side-character it wouldn’t have been as noticeable, but as the MC the lack of distinction did make it harder to care about him as a whole. He worked great as a set piece, and I definitely cared about the fate of the world, but there was nothing human enough to drag me into caring about Jay and I think the book was a little weaker for it.
To some extent, that’s true of really all the characters with a couple of rare exceptions. They feel like pieces moved into position that are meant to add to the style and atmosphere rather than exist as individuals. The flipside to this is that it creates a story where it truly feels like the world is the main issue at stake, individuals can be cast aside easily, and that serves to reinforce the overall tone of the novel. But if you’re the sort of reader who really needs to connect to a character to get into a book, then this might be a harder work to enjoy.
Overall, Mayday was a great, quick read. It was especially refreshing because I’d just rejected a few fantasy works for going so clumsily hard on world-building in the first few chapters, whereas this one did a wonderful job working the small details into the actual story. It wasn’t afraid to toss you an idea at the opening, then slowly drag out the reveal of backstory and tidbits about the world. It trusted its reader to stay engaged even if they didn’t know how everything worked from the outset, and it paid off by allowing a world that feels more expansive than the ones that blow their whole setting before chapter three.
Pick this up if you’re looking for a great example of a genre-mashup and world-building, as well as an intricate mystery plot surrounding giant monsters set on destroying humanity. It was an all-around good time to read, and I look forward to the sequel when it comes out. You can pick up the book here or go check out Chris Strange’s website. Enjoy, and I’ll see you all here for Book #3!