I had to request an ARC of Hex-Rated as soon as I saw the cover. The snake, the woman tied to a post, the guy in a cheap blue suit, the font of the title…it’s a little lurid, it’s got a lot of style, everything screaming one of those cheap little paperbacks you find at the used bookstore.
Sadly, Hex-Rated just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.
I don’t DNF many books, but I have a stack of ARCs waiting to be read, not to mention Conan pastiches. One of those books, Age of Assassins, is excellent and shared a release date. My issues with Hex-Rated are worth explaining at some length, though, and I do so below.
Hex-Rated takes place in 1970. Former magician-turned-private investigator James Brimstone gets his first client when a dame walks in (sort of). Nico is actress, ah, in the Valley who shows up with a face crisscrossed by scars and a story about a snake coming out of her co-stars mouth.
Ridler has injected a lot of political opinions into his book. I’m not opposed to that sort of thing. But it is as bound by conventions as any of aspect of storytelling.
The classics certainly do it. But they are classics because what they have to say is timeless. And Tolstoy you probably ain’t. It had better be interesting, and there really isn’t anything interesting about orthodox opinions.
The genre has a lot to do with it. Cyberpunk should be punk. Noir certainly has room for a certain worldview from its protagonist. Brimstone’s views on war and police work; his views on libertarians and Phyllis Schlafly less so. The politics certainly can’t be banal.
That isn’t necessarily fatal. But in between rolling my eyes there just isn’t that much there there. Hex-rated isn’t all that lurid, nor does it really feel like a noir. I haven’t read the noir forebears, including Spillane, but it reads more generic urban fantasy than any Noir SF or any 60s/70s paperback I’ve read. You can’t afford to slow things down for the reader if the characters and setting and mystery aren’t compelling, and unfortunately that was just the problem I had with Hex-Rated.