Naked Brunch (Sparkle Hayter)

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James Nicoll

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Jun 10, 2003, 11:02:14 PM6/10/03
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Naked Brunch
Sparkle Hayter
McClelland & Stewart Ltd (2002)
376 pages ($8.99 CDN)

Sparkle [1] Hayter is a former CNN journalist who turned to writing
mysteries in the 1980s, apparently because she ran out of material to read
on the train. She has also worked for Global TV and covered the Soviet Union's
war in Afghanistan as a freelance reporter. Now for what is as far as I
know the first time Hayter is dabbling in what could be called urban
fantasy.


NO ATTEMPT TO AVOID SPOILERS WILL BE MADE


First quick comment: this is a werewolf novel filled with
gruesome deaths and acts of wolfy sex. Of course M&S are trying to
sell it as a ChickLit book, complete with pastel pink on the cover
and a wolfishly furry foot in a red high-heeled shoe. That should
work out well.


The book covers events taking place in New York from June
to September in a year that is as far as I can unspecified. The first
hint that something unusual is happening is when a very large wolf [2]
tears out the throat of Robert "Good Job Bob" Bingham. This is followed
by a number of other killings, all people connected to the vast commerical
empire of Lord Harry, Evil Businessman and all of the victims are people
who might be said to suffer from serious moral taints (and in fact are
said to by the third person point of view, with detailed commentary on
their moral lapses). The murders change the lives of the following people:

Annie Engel, bullied secretary, who is somewhat alarmed to wake
in bed after a night of lurid dreams to find herself covered in blood
and fur. Vomiting up blood is not as reassuring as it might be (and later,
when she horks up an eyeball, that won't help either). She is quickly drawn
into a contest of wills between

Doctor Marco Potenza, whose speciality is the detection and
treatment of what his family calls Lycanthropic Metamorphic Disorder.
Taking care of the befurred is a family calling and the Potenza are
veyr proud and very protective of their domain, although curiously
although they themselves are often werewolves, they hold themselves
above the rank and file of the werewolf community. Indeed, their
treatments to keep the wolf under control often leaves their patients
in ketamine comas or dead and they have little hesitation to put down
werewolves they feel deserve it. Marco once had a close associate

Jim Valiente, also a werewolf, who fell out with Marco over
a female werewolf, females being something of a rarity. Jim was blamed
for her death but in fact Marco was the one who overdosed her and so
Marco can never allow Jim to be retaken by the Potenzas alive. Jim had
the sense to fake his own death and leave for India [3]. For personal
reasons he is back and he does not want to let Annie fall into Marco's
hands, not least because every time he and Annie are wolves they have
really good sex.

Also affected is Sam Deverell, an aging TV announcer whose
career is clearly nearly over and whose wife is openly cheating on
him around town. Sam is perhaps of average intelligence (on a good day),
not especially well-educated or curious about the world outside work
but dedicated to his career and with a formidable work ethic. Sam takes
it on himself to investigate the wolf murders in hopes of saving his
career and does this with more competence than any of his co-workers
would have expected from him (On the other hand, he gets more support
from some of his co-workers than he would have expected and more than
he knows).

The Mayor, whose wife may or may not be having an affair and
whose constituents understandably object to the series of wolf-related
deaths.

Lord Harry Teufel, evil businessman, whose supply of amoral
executives is shrinking faster than Martha Stewart's company's stock
value and whose expensive suits might as well have Purina Puppy Chow
labels on them.

There are other characters but I am not going to mention them.

The book details the power struggle between the Potenzas and
Jim over the curiously passive Annie, the depletion of various people
whose lives diminished the lives of those around them, Sam's struggles
to survive in a business usually hostile to people his age and the Mayor's
plans to deal with wolves and with the negative PR that gnawed bodies
generate for the city. Everything comes together for a stirring rooftop
chase scene at the end, with the Potenzas converting on Jim and Annie,
Jim and Annie converging on Lord Harry and his female counterpart, Rosemary
Frost, the Mayor's special team chasing what turns out to be a remarkably
large collection of man eating wolves and Sam attempting to stay employed.

You'd *think* that at least one of the antagonists (aside from the
obviously doomed Lord Harry, who has 'wolf slurpy' written all over him from
the moment he is introduced) would end up falling to a horrible death,
impaled on the sharp spikes of the iron fences that always turn up when
people take to rooftops but you'd be wrong. You might think that Sam,
who lacks the charm or the smarts of a true hero and who is a despicable
journalist to boot would be exposed as a poser and ruined but you'd be
wrong. You'd think the Mayor would be shown to be the same sort of corrupt
self-serving parasite we know all politicians are and you would be, once
again, wrong.

What happens is...

Jim and Annie kill Lord Harry and Rosemary Frost, elude their
pursuers and skip town.

Marco and his entire family lose enough face over the debacle
that Marco's wife is able to insist on more power and to steer the
treatment of LMD in a more humane direction.

None of the werewolves are caught by the police (although one
is temporarily caught by Annie's religious fanatic super, who has
deduced more or less what was going on and taken fairly reasonable
actions as a result). The Mayor takes full responsibility for the
failure to catch the wolves but manages to become reconciled to
his wife (who, it turns out, was not having an affair).

Dull and dutiful Sam realizes that his grasping wife does
not love him and files for divorce. He never figures out that his
wild weekend fling with a zoftig lady of negotiable virtue was
part of a plan of his wife's to take Sam to the cleaners when she
got around to filing for divorce, something she planned to do on their
wedding anniversary. Sam continues in his chosen career and begins
a quiet affair with Mikki the Zoftig Lady, who makes a career change
out of the negotiable virtue field and cable TV sex shows into main-
stream sex TV broadcasting on Sam's network.

Lord Harry's conglomerate ends up in the hands of Jed Sutton,
who appears to have been the only untainted exectuive near the top
of the company. Sutton is, of course, Canadian [4].

What did I think?

Shame Lord Harry was South African. Yes, bad people have to
come from somewhere but I am a bit tired of white South African
villains. Why not an evil New Zealander? Or an evil Maltan? Or, dare
I say it, *Canadian*. Look at Lord Strathcona, for example. He
managed to get denounced by Germans for crimes against humanity [5].

Damned handy, that infallible moral sense Jim and Annie
have. Be a shame if they had killed someone who didn't deserve
it, like the nosy waitress whose affections Jim spends the book
avoiding. On the other hand, there were some perfectly odious
people they managed to miss.

Annie is only barely a character in this book, even if
her situation puts the plot into action. Anyone see the movie
_Miami Blues_? Annie's not as self-motivating as the Jennifer Jason
Leigh character in that and only slightly moreso than the character
from the original novel the film was based on [6].

It's rare to see a not-smart, not charmingly mentally
handicapped person portrayed as positively as Sam. It's amazing to
see him shown in a positive light considering that he is a reporter.

It's nice that the Mayor and his wife patched things up but I
think there were too many characters shown in too much detail already for
the pages left over to allow that subplot to be satisfactorily developed.

I suppose it's nice that the hooker liked Sam but even taking
into account that she took part in a plan to blackmail Sam, need *every*
hooker have a heart of gold? Plus given that Sam's romantic history
to date has been dumped by Wife 1, then used by Wife 2 to further her
career until he was no longer of use, how likely is it that dating
his would-be blackmailer is going to work out well for him? Sam, there's
an easily obsessed waitress out there just waiting to stalk you...

I think once you start eating people you should stop claiming
to be a vegetarian, even if you only eat *bad* people.

Why do werewolves eat people? Aren't there more pigeons and
rats than humans in any given city? And isn't it safer to avoid humans?

On the whole, I thought it was flawed but interesting and that
there were enough moments that diverged from the predictable to make up
for the moments that did not. Call it a conditional recommendation.

James Nicoll

1: Sparkle is the name her parents gave her in 1958. I'd wonder about the
Dick Tracy connection but Sparkle Plenty was born in 1947, a bit too
early to inspire giddy late fifties parents, right?

2: There's a pseudo-scientific explantion for lycanthropy in the book
but the werewolves don't seem to obey conservation of mass. On the
other hand, a lot of people being torn to shred by an animal are
surprisingly bad at estimating the size of the animal attacking them
and I could see how for those people 60 kg might look as big as a bear.

On the other hand, some of these werewolves have an infallible
moral sense of who should be eaten. Or perhaps they only think they do...

3: Whose werewolves are dying out, we are told, and being replaced by
Western werewolves. Colonialism lives on. Except that since lady were-
wolves are rare, the Indian colony (who only eat the deserving, like
the briefly startled poachers who visit their community) is also likely
doomed.

4: Lord Harry was a white South African, something that is generally
about as survial enhancing in fiction as opening a leg vein and leaping
into a tank of hungry white sharks. However, Hayter makes a point of
mentioning that Lord Harry glories in his evil and has ever since the
days when he sold day-old papers at full price to sleepy commuters in
South Africa.

5: Because he tried to get Germans to move to Canada.

6: If you've only seen the movie, the book's version of that character
made the movie version look like Enrico Fermi.
--
"About this time, I started getting depressed. Probably the late
hour and the silence. I decided to put on some music.
Boy, that Billie Holiday can sing."
_Why I Hate Saturn_, Kyle Baker

Bill Snyder

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Jun 11, 2003, 12:18:57 AM6/11/03
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On 10 Jun 2003 23:02:14 -0400, jdni...@panix.com (James Nicoll)
wrote:

>Naked Brunch
>Sparkle Hayter
>McClelland & Stewart Ltd (2002)
>376 pages ($8.99 CDN)
>
> Sparkle [1] Hayter is a former CNN journalist who turned to writing
>mysteries in the 1980s, apparently because she ran out of material to read
>on the train. She has also worked for Global TV and covered the Soviet Union's
>war in Afghanistan as a freelance reporter. Now for what is as far as I
>know the first time Hayter is dabbling in what could be called urban
>fantasy.

>
>
> NO ATTEMPT TO AVOID SPOILERS WILL BE MADE
>
>

etc.

Let's see, good girl is An(ne) Engel, bad guy is a Harry Teufel.
Check. Her boyfriend is Valiente; powerful doctor is Potenza. Right.
Does sound about CNN-level, at that. No characters named Nuance or
Subtle, I take it?

--
Bill Snyder [This space unintentionally left blank.]

James Nicoll

unread,
Jun 11, 2003, 9:57:39 AM6/11/03
to
In article <e8adev8tlkn5v8ka7...@4ax.com>,

I'm pretty sure 'subtle' wasn't on the list of virtues of
this book. It is a little unfair to blame CNN for any flaws in this
book, since the author and CNN parted ways back in the Reagan
administration (Her work visa ran out).

One thing I should have mentioned: Annie struck me as being
suspiciously like Robin Hudson (the protagonist of Hayter's mystery
series), only on horse tranquilizers.

I think the whole thing would have worked better if it had been
more focussed, perhaps on Sam and the Mayor, whose interests were opposed
without either of them being Bad People.

Richard Shewmaker

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Jun 11, 2003, 8:07:03 PM6/11/03
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James Nicoll wrote:
> Naked Brunch
> Sparkle Hayter
> McClelland & Stewart Ltd (2002)
> 376 pages ($8.99 CDN)

<snip>

Sounds fun. I'll be getting this one. Thanks!

--
My mother used to laugh and say that the only thing my father wouldn't
do for Axel Kern was promise him his only child. Of course, she was
wrong about that.
-- Elizabeth Hand, "Black Light"

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