The name’s Jones. Michael M. Jones. Reviewer. I’m one of Green Man’s freelancers, a roving agent sent out into the cold, dark night to track down items of interest and write intelligent, gripping commentary. I turn folks on to the good stuff, warn them away from the bad stuff, and cry myself to sleep wrapped around a dogeared copy of War For The Oaks. It’s not as glamorous a life as you’d think. For every 5-star book, there’s a host of lesser lights just waiting to seduce you with empty characterization and weak plots. For every Nebula winner, there’s a formulaic hack. I’ve read things you people wouldn’t believe. Succubi seducing sleepless suckers in Seattle. Wizards waging war in Chicago. Faeries and werewolves and vampires. And somehow, I keep going.
I’d been gone from the Green Man mansion for a while, doing my thing out on the road. But finally, they called me in. Something about “expense reports” and “bar tabs” and “the police keep calling.” So I came in from the cold. Cat Eldridge himself, the big boss, met me at the door. He had a half-empty bottle of something in one hand, a Simon R. Green ARC in the other. I briefly wondered how to get one or both of those items from him, but remembered the pain I’d suffered last time I tried. The man loved his Simon R. Green and his booze.
“You’re late!” he bellowed. “You’ve missed fourteen consecutive deadlines, and offended three different Faerie Courts.” For all his claims that he was from Maine, I’d always suspected he was either Canadian, or a Faerie sympathizer. Either was bad enough. Both would be downright intolerable. Thus, I pretended to believe the polite fiction.
“I was busy,” I told him. I offered a sheaf of papers, crumpled and stained from where they’d been used as a coaster when I visited McAnally’s. “I brought you a review. Start of a new series. Trolls in the Hamptons by Celia Jerome. It’s about a graphic novelist who starts seeing trolls and having weird adventures. Urban fantasy. Very trendy. ”
He just narrowed his eyes at me, a clear sign that my tribute wasn’t nearly enough. I dug in a pocket. Tossed him a flash drive shaped like a four-leaf clover. “You’ll like this one even more. Remember Katherine Kerr? She’s doing urban fantasy also. The first in her new series, License To Ensorcell is about a psychic who works for the U.S. government, sees angels and saints, and hooks up with an Israeli secret agent. It’s a romantic comedy. This is what the readers want!”
Silence. Cat tapped his foot. Clearly, he expected something to justify my expenses and occasional bail money. I sighed, and gave him a folder, which he tucked under an arm without reading. An eyebrow quirked. I explained. “The latest in D.D. Barant’s awesome series about an FBI profiler thrust into an alternate world where humans make up less than a percent of the population, while vampires and werewolves and golems rule the place. Look, Cat, Killing Rocks is pretty awesome. I can’t even explain how Barant constantly challenges expectations and bends genre. This series is a surefire crowd pleaser.”
Cat cleared his throat. Put down the folder, the flash drive, the crumpled sheaf of papers. Put down the bottle and the Simon R. Green ARC. I edged towards them, and he coughed, delicately. I could see several Green Man attack cats drawing closer. He eyed me, expectantly. Said one word. “Poughkeepsie.”
“You . . . know about that.” I nodded. “Fair enough.” I pulled out my bootleg iPad, which I’d picked up from a technomancer in the Nightside for the low, low, price of someone else’s favorite song. Called up a file. “Trent Jamieson has a new one out also, in his Steven de Selby series. What do you do after you’ve become the regional manager for Death in Australia? Two words: corporate politics. And the end of the world. Managing Death is definitely it. I wouldn’t lie to you. This book is a killer.”
Cat frowned at me. Tapped a foot. “You were in San Francisco a long time,” he said.
I groaned. “It was the music. And the fresh air.” There was a long, awkward pause between us. Finally, I sighed, and produced a stack of bar napkins from one pocket. Handed them over. “I got you this. The last two books of that John Levitt series I’ve been telling you about. You know, featuring a musician-magician and his dog-who’s-not-a-dog? Unleashed, and Play Dead. Urban fantasy just as good as Tim Pratt . . . and just as canceled by the publishers. There’s no justice in the world. Maybe if we make enough of a stink, they’ll let him continue at some point.”
Cat’s look was sympathetic and sorrowful. We both knew I was living in a state of denial. No one liked to admit it. He was thawing, I could tell. But he was implacable. His gaze dropped to my shoes. Back to my face. I felt no need to explain the Cthulhu slippers. They were . . . colorful. He cleared his throat. Finally, I handed him several pages from a phone book, in which I’d scribbled in the margins. “A two-fer from Rachel Caine. Total Eclipse is the last of her Weather Wardens series, while Unseen is the third of her Outcast Season spinoff series. We’re talking apocalyptic end-of-world natural disasters, Mother Earth herself coming to smack us down, epic romance, awesome motorcycles, you name it!”
“And?” His voice was mildly inquisitive. How wasn’t he Canadian? They killed you with politeness.
“And? I’m tapped out, man! I’ve given you my best stuff!”
“Have you, now.”
I couldn’t take those eyes, that expression, that tone. It was like he’d seen inside my soul. “You win!” I cried. “I was saving this in case I ever needed to buy back my soul, but you can have it!” With shaking fingers, I handed him a flash drive with the Green Man himself on the side. “My Diana Pharaoh Francis bonanza. Four books. Two series. You have The Black Ship and The Hollow Crown, books 2 and 4 in her Crosspointe Chronicles. Another series killed before its time by the publishers. I think they’re in competition to crush my spirit. And before you ask, we already have reviews of the rest of the series. And here! Bitter Night, and Crimson Wind. The first two in her Horngate Witches series. Intense urban fantasy. Damn good stuff.”
I turned out my pockets, spread my hands, offered to be searched thoroughly by the TSA. That was it. No more. Every review I had on hand. Cat just smiled at me, thinly. Then he patted my shoulder. “That’ll do, Michael. That’ll do.” He had one of the interns take the reviews away for processing, picked up his bottle and ARC, and turned to leave. He looked back. I stared at the ARC hungrily. He threw it to me. “I’ll need this reviewed by tomorrow. Make it good.” And then he was gone, whistling a jaunty tune, leaving me alone, with a job to do.
The name’s Jones. Michael M. Jones. I’m a reviewer. This is my life.