K W Jeter is back with his latest Kim Oh novel: Real Dangerous Ride. Once again Kim Oh, the tiny Korean American hit woman is hired to do a little job which promises to make her a lot of money for little effort. And once again things don’t go according to plan. Kim is summoned to a decrepit office building where a computer screen introduces her to the latest client: a wealthy man named Dalby. He has a delivery he wants Kim to make. It consists of a backpack sealed shut. All she has to do is deliver it to and address in San Francisco and the money will be hers. She’s not told what is in the bag, but assumes it’s a data storage unit of some type.
Of course, it’s a Kim Oh novel so things start to go crazy from the start. Kim takes the job and heads out to make the delivery. Her younger brother Danny is out of the picture since he’s off at a technogeek convention. Along the way she suddenly finds herself at the mercy of a crazed driver in a Challenger and pilotless drone. How does this all figure into the overall theme of the book? You’ll have to read it to find out, sorry, no spoilers here.
I have to give Jeter credit, he knows how to create villains. The first one is a muscle head named Stinson who spends most of the book diving around a souped-up Dodge Challenger trying to get his hands on what Kim has in the bag. Stinson is every chump who got turned down at the prom’s nightmare. He’s also a nod to the great car chase movies of the 1970’s. I’m seeing a definite Vanishing Point reference here. Jeter has used Cruising California as a theme before, such as his sequel to Dr. Adder (published in 1984, but written earlier), the Mad Lands (1991).
The other group of misguided bad guys are some technology geeks who are also trying to get what the backpack has in it. These are a bunch of computer guys who are trying to create The Next Big Thing in software/hardware/whateverware and need to get that backpack. The have some grand schemes which just never seem to pan out. Jeter has a history of smartypants villains in his other books. One of my favorite characters in his novels is the police detective in Dark Seeker (1987) who fumes against people who think they’re smarter than the rest because “they have a bunch of initials after their names”.
As always, there is Kim’s observations about how the world really functions:
“….This whole bit about lining up business and having my best interests at heart – yeah, like I believed that. Two things I’d learned from Cole when I’d first started out – the first was that nobody does anything for free. And the second was that everybody always has another agenda. When a person tells you their reason for doing something is X, you know there’s a Y underneath, and they’re not telling you about it. It’d even been true for Cole himself – the same time he’d been telling me all this, as part of my education on how to be a hitman, he’d been running all sorts of numbers on me, which had almost gotten me killed.”
We are also introduced to another Jeter archetype in the story: the bottom rung working man. Someone who has had so many blows to his livelihood he can no longer get back up. In this case it’s Mason, who’s working at a restaurant between stints at a halfway house for ex-cons. The author did some work early in his career as a social worker and his knowledge of the rehabilitation system in California shows. Mason isn’t particularly a good guy, but he does offer to help out Kim at one point and adds some perspective to the story. I would like to see Jeter bring him back in a future Kim Oh novel. You don’t see too many writers who include “Oakies” in their stories these days, the author has been doing it a long time. The great dust bowl migration of the 1930’s serves as a backdrop to his horror novel, In The Land Of The Dead (1989).
The novel features plenty of road rage action. There’s an incredible sequence just waiting to be filmed where Kim battles it out on her Ninja bike with the lunatic in the Challenger over the backpack while racing down a highway crowded with traffic. The author can be a very visual writer when he wants to be.
I wouldn’t call this the best book in the series, but Real Dangerous Ride is a good addition to it. Aspiring pulp writers can learn a lot by reading a seasoned professional of Jeter’s caliber.