Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Mini-Review: The Builders by Daniel Polansky

The Builders by Daniel Polansky is at its basic, a novella about a bad joke. No, I won’t give you the punchline or even tell you what the joke is – knowing that it’s there, you’ll figure it out. And the suggestion that book is about a bad joke is in no way my saying that the book is a bad book – it’s quite the opposite, but it does help frame the story. Appreciation of just where this book comes from makes it all the more enjoyable, as for example, a Quentin Tarantino movie is.

“Revenge is a dish best served cold”

The Builders begins with this idea at its core, and the story is very much full of references not only to revenge tales, but also to variations of small teams at war and/or criminal gangs on a mission. I will not list them – they are legion – and I suspect many a reader will come up with their own, and those may or may not align with the ideas of Polansky as he wrote it all.

The mysterious Captain begins the story by recruiting his team, or more correctly, getting the old gang back together for one final mission to redress their last failed effort. We know one of the crew was a traitor, of course we do not know who. We can only suspect that it’s all only the beginning.

The Captain’s crew is a mixed group of the most unlikable sort – assassins, artillery, demolitions, snipers, etc. – but one and all, they are killers. Some of them get along, some hate everyone, the Captain holds them together, and for all that it may only be due to the blood they have spilled together. Or that the Captain is the meanest, most dangerous of them all.

And I suppose that I should mention that all the characters are anthropogenic animals whose personalities, instincts, and deadliness often correspond with their species. The mysterious, deadly Captain who all fear – he’s a mouse. His crew has a weasel, badger, rat, mole, salamander, owl, and possum. One of them may be French. They are up against the likes of an ermine, armadillo, cat, snake, fox, skunk, and legions of rats.

Personalities may be large, but the prose is minimal, dark, and dripping in morbid, gallows humor. There is bombastic boasting, dark grumbling, and the flash of knives in the dark. The final, suicide mission is told, blood and gore abound, betrayal, victory, and death. Who lives, who dies? Does it mean anything? Was it cold enough? Was it worth it…was it worth anything?

Who has the final laugh?

Will it be you dear reader, will you get the joke?

The Builders: Amazon

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