Charlie “Coop” Cooper is back in The Wrong Dead Guy, the raucous second book in Richard Kadrey’s Another Coop Heist series. The Department of Peculiar Science has finally made an honest man out of Coop; the former crook has gone legit with a real job in a downtown LA office building, albeit one filled with terrifying monsters and evil curses. Things are going well with his girlfriend Giselle, and Coop keeps busy at work by helping Bayliss figure out who keeps stealing her office supplies.
When his boss sends him on a caper to steal a second-rate mummy on display at the rundown Brian Z. Pierson Museum of Art, Antiquities, and Folderol, Coop puts his sticky fingers and magical immunity to government-sanctioned use. Unluckily for him, the incompetence of others mucks the whole thing up, and soon enough Coop ends up on the deadly end of the mummy’s curse. The newly reawakened Harkhuf has a hankering for ending the world and resurrecting his presently dead lover.
Meanwhile, back at DOPS, Coop’s arch-nemesis, Nelson, wields the mook-y might of the mail room and plots his sinister revenge, and a pair of agents are besieged by neglect and an ever-growing squid. Between enthralled rent-a-cops, undead mail clerks, monsters run amok, backstabbing psychics, mystical pachyderms, Richie Rich eco-terrorists, creepy clones with a lobotomy fetish, and skittish scientists, Coop has his work cut out for him.
Like its predecessor, there isn’t much to the plot of The Wrong Dead Guy. Harkhuf sends his thrall to retrieve an amulet and book so he can wake his bloodlust-y girlfriend, Coop unintentionally gets in his way, and grudge-bearing Nelson intentionally gets in Coop’s way. If this were a television show, the plot would just about cover a two-part episode with room for wisecracks. Yet what the plot lacks in depth it makes up for in breadth of humor, manic action, and spitfire dialogue. A lot happens in this novel. Like, a lot. “Action-packed” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Other, lesser authors would make any number of Kadrey’s set pieces into a final climax, but he just keeps piling on the chaos and ramping up the tension.
My biggest gripes with The Everything Box were that it was overly long on running gags and too short on character development, and unfortunately The Wrong Dead Guy hits the same pitfalls. Too often the jokes go on and on and on. Many go on so long that they circle back around to being funny again, but then keep going until they end up in “beating a dead horse” territory. That being said, the jokes are so offbeat and off-the-wall that even the least funny ones can still squeeze out a snicker or two. Probably my favorite passage comes midway through after Bayliss goes through an extremely unpleasant audit that leaves her a little worse for the wear. It’s just so enjoyably bonkers that even though it’s a bit of a dad joke, I can’t help but smile every time I read it:
They found Bayliss at her desk. Where her keyboard normally sat was a pair of sneakers filled with paper clips. The walls of her cubicle were papered with colorful Post-its. Each one had an inspirational quote and a tiny drawing in black ink, but they all seemed a little off. Hang in there, baby was at the top left of her cubicle. While the saying was normally accompanied by an image of a cat hanging from a tree branch, Bayliss’s Hang in there, baby featured a dragon in an evening gown eating what appeared to be a washing machine full of bowling shoes. Next to that was There’s no I in teamwork, with a drawing of an ice cream cone holding an ax chasing a bat with a machine gun.
“That one doesn’t even make sense,” Morty said. “Why doesn’t the bat just shoot the ice cream cone?”
“It’s probably a pacifist,” said Coop.
Comedy routines only go so far to help the reader get to know the characters. It almost felt like the characters stopped existing the moment they stepped offstage. Worse, they all sorta sound the same. Everyone is all dry humor and cynical sarcasm to the point where there’s little difference between any of them. Most of the characters are hardly more than a collection of quirks and in-jokes, so much so that for several of them you could swap names around and never notice the difference. That being said, the characters that do get fleshed out are an absolute treat. Coop is the put-upon straight man of Kadrey’s frolicking farce, and his growing exasperation at the increasingly wonky circumstances paired make him stand out from the rest of the cast.
If you haven’t read The Everything Box, I strongly suggest reading that before tackling The Wrong Dead Guy. The sequel isn’t completely impenetrable without having read the first, but it won’t make nearly as much sense without that foundation. There is some key worldbuilding in the first book that isn’t explained in the second, particularly the reason for Coop’s employment at DOPS, his tempestuous relationships with Phil and Giselle, and his immunity to magic.
I don’t know that I’d go so far as to place the curse of the sophomore slump at the feet of The Wrong Dead Guy, but it hovers in the vicinity. However, it’s still a far better book than most of its peers. The sequel wasn’t as fun as the original, but despite my aforementioned quibbles, the second book was stronger overall than the first.
Reading The Wrong Dead Guy is like watching a master juggler in action. Every time you think you’ve got a hang on all the moving pieces, Kadrey throws another one in the mix. The ending is telegraphed early on, but if ever there was a book that was about the journey rather than the destination, this would be it. Reading this book is like getting a lesson in the craft of writing. If Raymond Chandler co-wrote an urban fantasy mystery series with Charles Yu and the Coen brothers, you’d end up with Kadrey’s Another Coop Heist series.
Kadrey has done a fine job building on the momentum, humor, and premise of the first book, and frankly I can’t wait to see where he takes it in the third. The Wrong Dead Guy is goofy, bloody romp that’ll have you laughing and cringing at the same time. It’s a damn good read from a damn good author.
The Wrong Dead Guy is available now from Harper Voyager.
Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.