Ah yes, there’s something to be said about the earthy charms and old school flavors of the pulp novel. It brings one back to an earlier time, rich with mystery, action, and intrigue, with no less complexity than a more modern style. When Big Fish was added to my menu, my taste buds were intrigued. A period piece before Reganomics? High seas adventure? Something akin to those racks of pulps I only vaguely remember on my father’s bookshelf in my youth? Of course, nostalgia can only take you so far. Let’s see if this seafood combo platter had the right stuff to tantalize my taste buds!
As is tradition before we begin, let’s examine the Starving Review creed:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
At its core, Big Fish is a strongly-character driven mystery dish and there’s one of its greatest strengths as a literary dish. The main character is certainly three-dimensional and written so strongly that he could walk off the page without causing too much alarm. One thing that Mr, Grissom does very well, though, is to provide very rich secondary and minor characters on top of the main protagonist. That can be a difficult thing to whip into a recipe that has such a strong central flavor and hat’s off to the author for pulling it off.
As for the plot itself, a vital element in a mystery, it’s solid. It has all the right hints to make such a recipe pop: crime, intrigue, betrayal, lies, murder, all that sort of thing. Most importantly, the ending, where all the loose ends come together, makes sense. There are enough contextual clues that, after the fact, I could figure out the plot. In other words, there were no ‘where did THAT come from’ moments that plague poorly-scripted mysteries. That being said, the plot isn’t truly mind-blowing either. Solid, serviceable, but not revolutionary.
The writing style itself is crisp and evocative of the time and the setting, both of which play roles in the overall story. While one may not pick up a pulp mystery to seek out expert wordsmithing, there were one or two turns of the phrase that really resonated with me. Though he doesn’t need to with the genre he’s working in, the author goes above and beyond when it comes to the style of the book and it adds a lot of value to the piece.
If there’s any one significant flaw I could point out, it’s our old culinary nemesis, pacing (dun dun DUUUUH!). I won’t harp on this much because Big Fish does avoid most of the worst offenses that can be done with pacing. Where it *does* trip up is in exposition. Some areas of exposition are well-done, flowing logically into the events and characterization. There are some, however, that feel a bit too detailed for what the reader actually needs to know and leads to those sections dragging a bit. There are also a few sections of bland flavor where Mr. Grissom bogs down the narrative with describing the occasional day-to-day activity in step-by-step detail. This is an inconsistent problem … often, these basic activities are simply mentioned, letting the drama flow freely, and every once in a while, it becomes a short stretch of time-wasting writing. In the end, though, these minor hiccups of flow don’t impact the overall narrative too much.
What we end up with is a classic seafood feast with a surprise twist of mystery flavor, solid, tasty, but with the occasional bland course. It’s never enough to put you off the meal, which in total makes for an enjoyable and fun pulp mystery read. If you love mysteries, thrillers, main characters with a hint of scoundrel in them, or the feel of old pulp novels, I would gladly recommend picking up this little treat.
FINAL VERDICT: **** (A nostalgic taste of the sea with a twist of mystery!)