This book review is for Norman Oklahoma and the Bullets That Saved Christmas, by Steeven R. Orr.
For $0.99, this is a worthy buy. Though not ground-breaking, it’s an enjoyable little fantasy/holiday/noir title with some good laughs and decent action.
From Amazon.com: “Norman Oklahoma is a private investigator who specializes in the unexplained, the supernatural, and the just plain weird. Is his second short, Norman learns that someone wants to kill Santa Claus and destroy Christmas as we know it. Only Norman Oklahoma and a pair of antique revolvers can stop them.”
This short story is about 14,000 words long, so it’s a nice short read. I blew through it in about an hour.
The writing style starts off interestingly noir. The main character is Norman Oklahoma, a private eye specializing in the supernatural. This is a world of not only vampires and werewolves and ghouls, but of genetically modified beasts and holiday creatures (note the gigantic angry Santa Claus on the cover).
Norman Oklahoma is immortal and suffers from amnesia before the mid-1800’s. He also has an advanced healing factor that not only keeps him alive and relatively youthful, but knits injuries with startling speed. This is a somewhat typical character construction, but I found Norman entertaining nonetheless. As far as mannerisms, he’s very firmly entrenched in “noir detective” behavior, though he maintains interesting affectations such as his use of mid-nineteenth-century weaponry, including two modified Colt revolvers and a Winchester pump-action rifle.
On stakeout hunting down “The Walrus,” an old genetically-modified foe who’s (surprise!) half-man, half-walrus, Norman gets drawn into a conflict at the North Pole between Santa and an army of killer barbarian Yetis, and my fingers have never typed a sentence that awesome. An elf named Bricker recruits Norman to help find out who’s trying to kill Santa on Christmas Eve and thus doom Christmas for the whole world.
Let’s talk cons.
The characters are somewhat two-dimensional. As is appropriate, Norman is the most well-developed character, but I wasn’t eating him up. The vague hints at his back story and the mystery of his identity promised more, but didn’t leave me screaming for it. Props to Orr for portraying Santa Claus as a badass Viking warrior, however. There are a couple of fight scenes with Santa that I could see in my head, and they were epic.
The plot made me groan once or twice. In particular, there’s a repetitive theme of villains underestimating Norman, and Norman proceeding to immediately drop them with bullets to the brain. I say “repetitive” because it wore on me. The short story’s “ultimate villain” died this way, making for an anticlimactic battle.
The discovery of the would-be Santassassin (™ Garrett Robinson 2014) is also groan-worthy. There’s little explanation of this character other than what is plainly, viciously obvious to the reader, which points out immediately that HEDUNIT! Norman’s “discovery” and revelation therefore falls flat, not seeming like an accomplishment of all. Of course, the book is more than half farce, so this could have been the author’s intention.
The character’s internal drive to undertake the adventure fell flat with me. I believe motivation should always be primal, and never more so than in a noir book. In classic noir, you’d have revenge, you’d have the threat of death, or you’d have the hots for the dame with legs that stretched for miles. Here, we had a quest for a Christmas present. Hardly the stuff of legend.
This book needs an edit. I counted 38 definite errors (typos, incorrect sentence structure or improper grammar) in 14,000 words, which is too much. Stylistically, the book also falls flat on use of language. Many sentences, though technically correct, are tediously built and break the flow of the story.
There were quite a few chuckle moments in this book. One look at the cover and a scan of the title tells you that it can’t be taking itself too seriously, a promise fulfilled by the book. In particular, interactions between Norman and the elf Bricker drew smiles more often than not.
The book benefits very strongly from the best thing about these “alternate fairy tale” books (which I know just a little bit about). Namely, you want to keep turning pages because you want to see how he’s going to treat the next fairytale creature he brings into the story. And the story, though trite, is interesting enough to keep that urge alive.
This is a weakness of mine, but I’ve LOVED the immortal hero with the mystery past stereotype ever since Wolverine (who also shares Norman’s healing factor).
SUMMARY: 3.5 STARS
This is the second short in a series. At $0.99, it’s worth an hour of your time. I’m not knocking down doors trying to get the next one, but it’s on my list to purchase and read at some point. I’d be interested to see what Orr could crank out in a full novel length with a professional edit or three.