If you’re a writer—heck, if you can read—and aren’t already following the blog over at Murderati, you should be. It’s an international collective of amazing people who write amazing stuff.
One of these people is the brilliant Zoë Sharp, creator of strong, smart, and deadly ex-military bodyguard Charlotte “Charlie” Fox . Combined, the bios of these two women, author and character, could give Modesty Blaise* a run for her money.
The reality is that the close-protection business is all about reputation . . . With the rest of the team blown, the responsibility for maintaining that reputation rested squarely on my shoulders.
No pressure, then.
But to be scrupulously honest—hush, it could happen—while I look forward to Ms. Sharp’s blog posts, the closest I’ve come to reading a Charlie Fox adventure was the time she had Charlie write a guest post. In my defense, Killer Instinct, the first book in the series, has proved difficult to find.**
So when Ms. Sharp offered her new e-thology of five Charlie Fox stories to the first fifty people who agreed to review it, I jumped at the chance to see both of them in action.
I was not disappointed. At all. Each story offers something different in tone and direction, with Charlie, naturally, as the constant.
The first story, “A Bridge Too Far,” is a psychological whodunit: Charlie and her friend Sam are observing the leader of a Dangerous Sports Club dive off a viaduct when an altercation with the landowner interrupts and something goes terribly wrong . . . . or did it? Charlie doesn’t actually solve the mystery, here, but she gives us the essential pieces and keeps order among the suspects in her own particular way.
A bit more of Charlie’s background comes to light in the next story, “Postcards from Another Country,” in which she has an interesting talk with the wayward daughter of her primary, a rich man who has already had one attempt made on his life. This story has a flavor of 1940s Hollywood noir, with Charlie as the Bogart character—except Charlie actually doesn’t play the sap, for anybody.
“Served Cold” is the only story in the collection written in third person from the POV of a different character. Charlie plays a cameo role here, but the rest of the story is marvelous in its own right. I was so interested in Layla and her plans that I completely forgot to look for Charlie—which may have been Ms. Sharp’s intention.
“She was a waitress, a dancer, a hooker. A no-account nobody. Not worth the effort of a beating. Not worth the cost of a bullet.”
“Off Duty” is the lightest of the five, and great fun. I learned something about basic bodyguard philosophy in this one, as Charlie finds her therapeutic vacation at a Catskills health spa disturbed by a total prat.*** Seriously, I have to admire Charlie’s cool restraint—if I’d been her, this story could easily have ended after the first three paragraphs with a very loud bang.
“Some guys hear the word masseuse but by the time it’s gotten down to their brain, it’s turned into hooker.”
The last story, “Truth and Lies”, shows Charlie at her most deadly—at least in this collection—as she enters a restricted country to extract a couple of terrified journalists guarding an explosive, world-changing story. As Ms. Sharp mentions in the intro, this was written specifically for this collection with no particular specifications, so she had the room to explore truth, lies, and the characters’ vastly different motivations for telling either at any given time.
“You go into another zone in a firefight, one where normal morality if suspended, normal feelings of fear or revulsion are put aside. Sometimes it was hard to tell when everyday reality recommenced. Some soldiers never returned.”
Ms. Sharp’s clear, laconic style fits Charlie perfectly—she doesn’t waste words on unnecessary explanations, she simply lets Charlie get on with it and trusts the reader to understand.
And we do.
So, if you’re looking for a kick-ass heroine written by a kick-ass writer, Fox Five is the perfect introduction to the prodigious talents of Charlie Fox and her creator. And if you’re already a fan, these stories are a great way to fill in the gaps between the novel-length adventures.
I’m looking forward to reading the series from the beginning— Ms. Sharp mentioned that her backlist will be released electronically very soon, so it should be much easier to get my hands on the first few books.
She also said she’d sign my Sony eReader at Bouchercon—hope she was kidding about the Sharpie . . .
*If you don’t know who she is, hie thee to google and thank me later.
**I just discovered that it was re-released by Broken Flush Press in 2010, but I haven’t taken advantage yet. I tried to get it through Interlibrary Loan a few weeks ago, but I’m on a waiting list. Hmmph. What’s a library degree for, if you can’t get the books you want when you want them?
*** Apparently, the damage done to Charlie’s motorcycle in this story is mentioned in Third Strike—that’s the kind of in-joke continuity I enjoy.