Operation Freakshow – part thriller, part adventure, part socio-political commentary of modern American life – is a story about unassuming heroes, vigilante justice, the dirt and grime of American culture, our inner demons, and the unpleasant subject of pedophilia. The opening scene is violent and unsettling, creating the tone for the rest of the story. (Although there are plenty of moments to make the reader wince and stir in discomfort, they don’t get quite as horrific as the first chapter.) Structurally, the story reads really well. The novel’s chapters are brief, often only a page or two in length, and offers almost a series of vignettes and snippets of the whole tale that manages to flow almost seamlessly. It reads almost like a screenplay, and indeed it’s not difficult to imagine this story as a motion picture.
This tale abounds with characters that the reader will want to love, hate, and either not associate with or keep in their corner just in case they’re needed. But they’re also characters to cheer on and at times relate with. There is a familiarity to them, whether we know people like them in our own lives or have seen similar formulas used in other works of literature or cinema. Either way, the authors do a fantastic job of sculpting the characters for the reader to better understand. We are often introduced to these characters in the midst of their lives – they are in thought, in action, in distress, at any prescribed moment. It’s like walking into a room in the middle of the conversation but being able to join right in.
Operation Freakshow guides us through the interwoven lives of seemingly average people from all walks of life – detectives, alcoholics, gubernatorial hopefuls, rowdy teenagers – with the caveat that everyone has a history and everyone has something to tell, whether they decide to or not. They are unapologetically human and there is a rawness about their emotions and personalities. We are forced to tap into our own vocabulary of emotions and challenge them. We feel sadness, disgust, discomfort, curiosity, and anxiety.
Fisher and Koco do a fine job at creating suspense and surprise, though a major pivot in the story comes off a bit rushed and fantastic and begins to lean towards a comic-book, pulp/campy vibe (which, given the themes and quirkiness of some characters, I'd bet it was intentional; I get the impression the authors know very well what they're doing). But the momentum isn’t lost and the colorful wordplay and subtle nods to the haphazardness and sensationalism born of American culture allow the story to recover from any mild turbulence without missing a beat.
Here’s a bit of some of the goings on: A group of hit men in an unnamed American city, (but reminiscent of the suburbs of megalopolis - Pennsylvania and New Jersey come to mind) the leader of which is a lumbering, tattooed giant both soft spoken and fearful, changes its course of action after the gruesome murder of an acquaintance. Internally they are often at odds but manage to work together. A detective with his own agonizing problems is put on the case which he feels indifferent about. Shady underworld characters do their shady underworld business. Strippers try to make a living. People get hurt. People get killed. True there is a handful of expected tried-and-true elements to create the story, but it works without becoming formulaic.
The world that coauthors Fisher and Koco create is colorful, grimy, uncomfortable, and eerily familiar, like streets we’ve all driven down nervously or furniture from our childhood that makes us itch and is immortalized in aging family photos. Scenes are described with meticulous observation, from the stains on the carpet to the objects on a table to the sweat beading up on someone’s neck. But it is not laborious or taxing, and Fisher and Koco know when enough is enough and move on; many chapters open with a description of the scene but they’re wrapped up in a matter of several lines. They do not spoon-feed the reader but rather paint these gloriously dank and sticky scenes for us to finish inking in. They are places we’ve seen before. Lifeless and weathered parking lots, outdated offices with faux wood paneling, harshly-lit convenience stores. At times the descriptions are a bit adjective-heavy, but this doesn’t detract from the story or the scenes, and the authors’ word craft is still praiseworthy, especially for a debut novel.
If you are a fan of dystopian graphic novels and comics, a follower of current events, a viewer of films such as Reservoir Dogs, or partial to the writing style of Augusten Burroughs or Christopher Moore, you may very well enjoy reading this. I recommend this book if you appreciate irony, action, dark themes, and heavy subject matter with a layer of lightheartedness and smarts that keep the pages turning and story moving. If vulgarity and colorful imagery are not your thing, I'd like to direct you to the Kids' section instead.
The book is now available on Amazon (along with this review) in paperback and Kindle forms. And ain't nobody paid me to tell you that, ya hear? Just so we're straight.