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2.0 out of 5 starsI wanted to love this book but....
Reviewed in the United States on March 21, 2019
Set at Comic-Con, this novel certainly depicts that chaotic scene in all its idiosyncratic glory. There are plenty of pop-culture references and tons of inside jokes and references. The setting and a lot of the characters feel authentic. On the other hand, some of the central characters are more like caricatures--loveable misfits and self-centered opportunists. Not that those types don't exist, they're just a bit flimsy to be plot anchors.
And while there are some likeable female characters here and the story does a decent job of depicting just what women are up against in this and other tech-entertainment arenas, it ultimately doesn't do anything to advance their cause. Instead it falls back on some of the stereotypes that perpetuate the problems.
I don't recommend this book for anyone who doesn't already have a keen interest in this milieu. And even then, there's less here than they might hope to find.
5.0 out of 5 starsThe best convention comic novel since Bimbos of the Death Sun
Reviewed in the United States on July 10, 2018
Not since Sharyn McCrumb's
Bimbos of the Death Sun
has there been a comic novel of this quality set at a fantasy convention. This book is superior in the author's trenchant depiction of both ComicCon and the lives of creative people working in graphic literature. McCrumb's novel is superior in conventional terms, the plot makes (comic) sense, the characters have depth and develop, the dialog is realistic and witty. But McCrumb is a tourist bemused at the weirdness of science fiction and fantasy conventions of the 80s, while Van Lente is an insider with a much deeper grasp of today's ComicCon culture, and a shining kernel of love underneath a heavy coating of bitter cynicism.
I have attended both (mostly in tourist capacity) and can say while McCrumb paints an entertaining caricature, Van Lente has captured the dark humor underlying the reality.
I'm also going to toss in a small nod to
, a vastly superior literary work, but one that Van Lente's characters would fit into, and with a similar central character stoically enduring cascading absurdities, without losing his ultimate sense of rationality.
On the downside, the plot of this book resembles a make-it-up-as-you-go-along TV action series episode. That's not a major problem in a comic novel, but the resolution would be more satisfying if it tied up loose ends and made any sense. Individual lines of dialog are gems, but conversations never develop rhythm. In fact the plot has the same issue, there's the intricate time plotting of a clockwork heist novel that conflicts with the unsteady pacing, and a story explained as much by the main character's introspection as actual events.
Still, for all it's fault, it's a first-rate comic novel even for those who care nothing about comics; and an incisive picture of comic culture even for those with no senses of humor.
5.0 out of 5 starsA fun mystery novel that takes you inside the world of Comic Con
Reviewed in the United States on January 24, 2019
I enjoyed Fred Van Lente's debut comedic mystery novel, 2017's 10 DEAD COMEDIANS, but THE CON ARTIST finds the author fully in his element. (Although Dante Dupree from 10 DEAD COMEDIANS is name-checked in THE CON ARTIST, which I guess puts both novels in the same...Van Lenteverse?) A murder mystery set at a nerdy convention isn't exactly a new concept (Sharyn McCrumb's 1988 BIMBOS OF THE DEATH SUN comes to mind, as does Nick Mamatas's 2016 I AM PROVIDENCE), but what makes THE CON ARTIST special is its insider's view of San Diego Comic-Con. (Van Lente himself has been a comic book professional for decades and is no stranger to comics conventions.)
The mystery is more grounded this time around, with less of a ticking clock, which allows the reader plenty of opportunities to soak in the narrator's observations about the convention, which I suspect are not all that different from Van Lente's own. Some of those observations are quite funny, such as the breakdown of the five categories of people the artists in Comic-Con's Artists Alley regularly have to interact with, while others are more poignant or disturbing, like the trajectory that can gradually transform a fan who loves comics more than anything into someone who harasses comics creators online with insults and death threats.
THE CON ARTIST is a fun, quick read with a compelling mystery and a singular and truly enjoyable insider's POV. Mystery readers will be entertained, but if you're also into comic books you'll definitely get something extra out of it.