Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Helmut Saves the World by Matt Sheehan

Helmut Haase and his druid partner Shamus O'Sheehan, own the Fog City Detective Agency.  Helmut plays the role of heavy and accounting manager, while Shamus uses his druidic powers to help solve cases. Though both men are completely opposite, they are a formidable team. Motivated by a large payday, Helmut ropes Shamus into a case which quickly reveals the darker side of their world.

Though there are elements of the fantastical in this book, Helmut Saves the World is a dime novel masquerading as a detective story.  Events tend to happen to Helmut and Shamus, rather than them actually being engaged in a mystery and discovering a solution. Coming in at 105 pages, Helmut Saves the World is a novella and as such, has specific limitations due to length.   Sheehan did take great care with his world building to create an alternative earth, with a new history but took no such care with character development or motivation.  Helmut Haase is easily one of the most unlikable protagonists that I have had the misfortune to stumble upon in the longest time.   He is an avid womanizer, with zero respect for women.  His only goal is to amass fortune and display it like a ridiculous peacock.  He drips of uninformed hypermasculinity, with absolutely zero nuance.   To Sheehan's credit however, I am not at all convinced that readers are meant to truly embrace Helmut.  

Female characters exist as little more than conquests to Helmut.  He seduces them quickly and discards them like yesterdays refuse. The only two female characters who have any weight in the story are Katina, a woman Helmut lusts after and of course must save, when a man comes on too strong at a bar and Phoebe, whose largest claim to fame was rejecting Helmut's charms in favour of Shamus.  To make matters worse, Helmut naturally assumes that Phoebe is a lesbian at first because she doesn't rush to open her legs. Women are simply conquests to be bedded and have far less characterization than the male characters.  Which is saying something because the male characters are cardboard cutouts, with Helmut excelling in the role of Gary Stu.

Though Helmut Saves the World is only 105 pages long, I found myself struggling to finish it.  The story seemed to jump with little to no connection.  At times, it felt extremely disconnected.  I particularly had difficulty comprehending the shift between Helmut and Alek moving from an employee/employeer relationship, then adversaries and finally allies.  This shift happened rather quickly and made little sense.  In short, it was a sloppy way to set up a supposedly epic battle and a chance to glorify in testosterone. I could have done without it.

The only character of colour in the novel is Mr.Singh and he is a scientist.  Just like all of the characters in the novel, he is supremely underdeveloped.  He was described as having an "Eastern complexion." Singh is little more than a tool for forces which are far more powerful than he is.  Singh essentially is a pawn in a war. I suppose some inclusion is better than nothing, but that's not saying much.

I think that in the case of Helmut Saves the World, this novella is a case of your mileage might vary. I am a fan of the supernatural/paranormal elements in this genre and at least in that element, Helmut Saves the World definitely fell short.  It is worth noting however, that if one is at all nostalgic for the pulp detective stories of old, Helmut Saves the World just might be appealing.  The writing isn't spectacular and the story will quickly be forgotten once you read the last page but it fits a very specific aesthetic quite well and those appreciating that sort of work may just enjoy Helmut Saves the World. It's cheap, quick entertainment, meant to be consumed rapidly and put aside for other things.

Editor's note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley