There’s a grand tradition of Saturday afternoon action TV. The 1970s and 80s treated us to high-concept episodic crime capers in sun-kissed locations, all car chases and shout-outs, every mystery solved with a seemingly endless supply of ammunition and helicopters. The Fall Guy. Magnum PI. The A-Team. Hart To Hart (“When they met, it was murder!”). The Jack Reacher adaptations on Amazon Prime right now capture something of the same boisterous fun.
If that’s your vibe, Far Out should be on your TBR pile. It’s brash pulp with a glamorous Hollywood edge, and it walks a fine line between wit and spectacle. Despite its modern setting, it feels vintage; it’s a hyperreal caper, equal parts glitz and grit, its characters armed with quips as well as Glocks.
Talib has written four novels before, all thrillers, and this one is published by RIZE, an imprint of Running Wild Press, which specialises in books written by people of colour and other historically excluded groups. Far Out is a sequel to 2018’s Gun Kiss, but it’s a standalone story, and all you need to know is that movie star Goldie Saint Helen is married to Blake Deco, a former special forces soldier who is now a screenwriter. They met when he was hired to rescue her from a Mexican drug lord. In this new novel, Goldie loses her memory after a car wreck, and her scheming lawyers see an opportunity to steal her fortune. Blake rides to her rescue once more.
There’s an attractive high concept in the book’s first half, which sadly fades into the background. Goldie’s head injury gives her dissociative amnesia, and she wakes up believing she’s a detective in the 1960s. Author Talib has an ear for snappy dialogue, especially the retro groovy kind, and Goldie – in her assumed role of ace PI Gypsy Star – is a delightful mess of laid-back, fast-talking, trippy chatter. She goes on the run in California, believing herself to be uncovering a CIA conspiracy. It’s funny, tense, and filled with promise. Will this be a book in which Gypsy Star solves crime, Swinging 60s-style?
No. After a few fish-out-of-water mishaps (a couple of them farcically sexual), the concept takes a back seat later on. That’s a shame because it’s a fascinating hook, and both Goldie and Gypsy deserve more page time. Instead, Blake discovers that cannabis can bring his wife’s genuine personality back, so a pocketful of CBD pills later, and Gypsy Star isn’t doing much investigating. The book morphs into a gung-ho romp with Blake as the hero. Goldie’s conniving attorneys were planning to embezzle from her estate while she was disorientated; now she’s well, they kidnap her, frame her for sexual indiscretion, and dump her in an asylum. Blake and his former army buddies go on the rampage to free her and expose the wrongdoing.
The plot becomes as preposterous as any film Goldie Saint Helen might star in. Blake is arrested and busts his way out of prison; he and his companions don various disguises, including joining a mariachi band; they rescue Goldie’s cat, Fufu, from a luxury condo and then take to the air in a garage-built flyboard. It’s a story more interested in tempo than logic or realism – there’s no denying its cheerful energy nor the author’s ability to surprise.
The pounding pace has some clumsy writing to overcome, including odd word choices. “Genuflect” is used multiple times to mean “gesture” (“genuflection” correctly means bending the knee). Other malapropisms sneak in, like “catheter” instead of “cannula” in hospital scenes. The author also falls into the same trap as Dan Brown, who is famous for his page-turner plots but awkward prose. Talib similarly peppers his text with “the curly-haired woman”, “the tall man”, “the goateed man picked up a small bottle”, and so on. Brown is a millionaire with a successful publishing career, so it obviously works for some readers, and maybe Khaled Talib will strike gold the same way. Despite – or perhaps because of – the informal phrasing, he maintains an exciting momentum, cramming his book with ideas.
The sunlit location and high-stakes action bring a homespun mix of Jonathan Kellerman and Elmore Leonard to mind. The best chapters are pure LA caper, absurd and breathless. Ultimately, Far Out is riotous escapism, like classic weekend action TV.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars