Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts [Amazon link] by Misha Burnett is what you get when you combine a gritty police procedural with the mad genius of Tim Powers. Detective Erik Rugar is a world weary investigator, but his problems are illicit thaumaturgical substances and unregistered wizards. That in and of itself is a pretty good setup, but then Burnett adds a dose of the routine absurdity of normal life. Or at least what passes for normal for a cop.
Burnett described his intent with Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts to me on Twitter as “Joseph Waumbaugh with demons and wizards“. I haven’t read The New Centurions [Amazon link], Wambaugh’s most famous work, but upon reading a description of it, I feel like I already know it, as it has become a part of our culture. It probably helps that Los Angeles, explicitly the setting of The New Centurions, and implicitly the setting of Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts, is the big American city with which I am most familiar.
However, I almost feel as if Dracoheim, the city of Erik Rugar, has some hints of Atlantic City or Coney Island about it. It isn’t just the many boardwalk scenes, which feel more like the East Coast than the West to me. Dracoheim is just a little too old to be Los Angeles, which while the Pueblo was established in 1781, didn’t really take off until the early twentieth century, when William Mulholland begged, borrowed, or stole every water source within 250 miles to make the city we now know as Los Angeles possible.
We get hints of the history and politics of Dracoheim as we move through this collection of vignettes in the life of Erik Rugar, but that is never the focus here. Erik is just a man doing his job, maybe even a man more than a little obsessed with his job. And what a job it is! Erik is the man who protects Dracoheim from the things that go bump in the night. As we follow Erik, we get to see the grand sweep of his city, from grungy tenements to glittering towers.
I do think my favorite scene was the murder mystery set in the tabletop wargaming club for the rich and famous. I think in some ways, Erik’s world is better than ours. In many ways however, it is simply alike. Erik must deal with strange and unspeakable horrors, but the motives of his opponents are readily recognizable: greed, revenge, lust for power, even boredom. Magic is just a part of the world, and when something goes wrong, Erik Rugar is on-hand to set things right again.
I bought a copy of this book because I was intrigued by the concept, and I was handsomely rewarded. I am pleased with how well executed this book is, and I think it should be better known. Why don’t you pick up a copy and see what it’s all about?
Other modern pulp
Books by Tim Powers