Friday, February 14, 2014

Love is the Law by Nick Mamatas

Crowley and Communism combine in this fast-paced mystery set in the shadow of a changing political dynamic. Dawn Seliger is an aimless late ‘80s punk dabbling in Marxism and magick on Long Island. When her mentor is killed, she’s the main suspect, and must test the concepts she’s learned to bend others to her Will and balance the scales.

Mamatas brings his signature style of wry dialogue to this cynical look at life in suburban America, using Dawn’s quest as a way to comment from a radical perspective. I was really impressed with Nick's knowledge of Crowley and his accurate portrayal of his philosophy, rather than the gross exaggeration a lesser writer might have used to goose the plot. Instead, Mamatas takes in the ideas whole-cloth, using their positive and negative aspects to drive the story, without passing judgment on Crowley's magickal manipulations, leaving up to the reader to decide if Dawn's usage of them is valid, real, or ethical.

Another thing that really stood out to me was just how well Mamatas creates the world of Long Island and the feeling of living in America in the late 1980s in general. I felt like I could see the places Dawn visited in my mind, and that's extremely rare when I'm reading a book. As a person who grew up in the 1980s and was painfully aware of the anxiety and transitions it required, Nick's look at how it might drive a socialist mad and push others to desperate measures to keep even a sliver of power are completely accurate. I've no doubt some of the people who were $20 an hour miners who became $4 an hour baggers at the grocery store would easily give into the idea of dark magick to restore their status.

But I mostly read fiction for the characters, and the ones in Love is the Law are as engaging as they come. They include William Selger, Dawn’s crack-addled father and Crowley wanna-be, Robert Riley, a businessman with secrets to hide, and Dawn herself, who is just rotten enough to be likable as she tries to figure out the truth.

This tightly-plotted neo-noir shows Mamatas knows his history and the occult, mixing them together to form a successful mystery with a satisfying, if downbeat, ending. This might be the best fiction book I've read in years, freely blending between genres to tell the story the author wants, not what a reader might expect.