One only needs to read a few pages into Deadbeat: Makes You Stronger to see that Guy Adams has strength in writing the Holmes-Watson dynamic. Tom Harris is the Holmes of sorts, at least in that he has the eye to observe the strange occurrence of a breathing body being carted away in a coffin. And Max Jackson is his Watson, the long-suffering best friend who, once up to speed, is keen to solve a mystery as well. That being said, Deadbeat is something distinctly different, and totally fun in its own right.
Tom is a lover of music, and the backseat owner of a jazz club called Deadbeat. His days in theater are behind him, but his flair for performance never died. Max is also a theater veteran, but is all dry wit with a hint of cynicism. Both men enjoy a night of drinking, but it was something more unbelievable that first drew them together.
Yes, this is a crime novel, but with a supernatural twist. A supernatural twist that is refreshingly unromantic. Max and Tom (and a small number of others, to their knowledge) exist with the same, unexplainable condition. Too vague? Let’s just say that if you feel compelled to use a particular “z” word, don’t. It’s not polite.
But as long as they don’t draw too much attention to themselves, no one would know they were at all different. Which is why Tom and Max investigate the suspicious case of the breathing corpse on their own, without involving the police. And they’re not half bad at the detective work, until an enormous oversight gets Max kidnapped. Though Tom thinks nothing of dragging Max into his antics, he reacts in true “Garridebs” fashion when his friend is in danger, assembling his club staff as a rescue team.
It’s a merry band of misfits versus a rather sinister underground operation, but don’t fret. After all, there is a second Deadbeat book to come, so without giving too much away, you do have to figure that Max and Tom get out more or less intact. Then again, don’t get too comfy. You’ll certainly laugh, but there are reasons this book is classified as horror. There’s darkness in Max’s past and questions of morality in terms of self-preservation for those like him. These revelations cut sharply into the story’s humorous tones and make the narrative all the more interesting.
So imagine my surprise when a visit to Adams’ Deadbeat webpage revealed that when Deadbeat was originally pitched (as a novella), the publisher disagreed with his mixing of comedy and horror, as well as the decision to write the story from multiple perspectives. But what good would the story have been if the humor had been sucked from our leading men? And in regards to the switching perspectives, while I liked being in Max’s head the most, seeing Max and Tom through each other’s eyes was great fun. This structure also allowed Adams (or Max, really) to tell the story in the order of his choosing, and to withhold certain information until he was ready to reveal it.
My only true gripe with Deadbeat is one that you’ve got to expect from a female reader: it’s a total dude-fest. The only women are the victim, the church cleaner, Tom’s fleetingly mentioned ex-wives, the memory of the woman who broke Max’s heart, and a bartender whose breasts are noted as a distraction. This book is set in modern times. If Max can play a game of Angry Birds on his phone, we can have an indispensable female character, can we not? Adams does at least take care to include queer characters. Douggie, the big, campy bouncer with bright red hair is certainly my second favorite character to Max.
All-in-all, Deadbeat is good entertainment with a hooking mystery, and with questions to be answered, I fully intend to read the next installment. Pick up this book, stick it in your purse, and knock it out on your next long train ride.