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Strange Robby

By Selina Rosen. Cover art by Melanie Fletcher.
Perfect-bound Trade Paperback - 368 pages

$16.00 + Shipping

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On the trail of a moral serial murderer

Two members of the Shea City police force must find a rampaging killer armed with a deadly weapon in Selina Rosen's Strange Robby, a near-future science fiction novel about crime, cover-ups, and friendship. The twist? Agents Spider Webb and Tommy Chan are more than happy to let the killer run free since he's dishing out vigilante justice to the wicked of Shea City.

Webb and Chan's cover-up is not easy, however, as two flavors of federal spooks are keenly interested in the case: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Special Weapons Task Force (SWTF). There is also hot lesbian love as DA Carrie Long throws her better instincts aside to pursue the edgy, dangerous Spider Webb.

The just-around-the-corner world Selina Rosen has built in Shea City contains aspects that make it tragically real. Technology doesn't really help that much. Cops find themselves spied on by their superiors, and what information- gathering-equipment the good guys have is easily thwarted by other off-the-shelf technology, old boy networks are still going strong, the justice system still doesn't work, the Middle East is nothing but trouble, and the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. Well, the SWTF knows, but it doesn't share.

But the SWTF doesn't have much choice. Turns out that Webb is a bit of a weapon herself — an empath. Is Strange Robby yet another book about cops with special powers? Yes, it is. And it's a good one. How good? Shades of Lance Henrikson's Frank Black from Millennium.

The very skills that make Webb such a great detective ensure she leads a life of bitter alienation. Being able to understand what people feel has its disadvantages. We lie asll the time. Normal people learn how to hide their dislike and distrust of strangers, but Webb sees right through that and can tell how weirded out people are by her. Hers is a lonely life, punctuated by sudden violence, empty affairs, and psychological demons the likes of which you and I are lucky not to know! In fact, her only two good relationships are with in-the-trenches partner Chan, and a man in a coma. Oh, and being a gay ex-marine who rarely thinks before she acts and is too stubborn to back down (much less change the name "Spider Webb") doesn't help Webb's situation that much, either.

That's the hand she's dealt; that's the hand she plays. The romance angles, be they between Webb and Carrie Long, or Tommy Chan and his wife Laura, are some of the best of the book, and make a nice break from the shadowy goings-on, while simultaneously upping the stakes by showing what Webb and Chan stand to lose should they fail to keep a step ahead of the game.

Selina Rosen does an outstanding job of conveying the claustrophobic confines of maintaining a cover-up while investigating a cover-up. She handles secondary characters with respect as well, moving them up in priority and forcing the reader to invest in these most vulnerable characters. Tommy Chan is especially well done. As long-suffering friend of Spider Webb, he's seen her come through "in the shit" as the kids say, and they've formed bonds. But then, he's not an empath. He's just a regular second-generation Asian-American struggling with his interracial marriage and putting himself out there on the edge against the Man, his spooks, and things much worse than empaths. Robby Strange, low-income handyman and terrible swift sword of justice, also stands out. Take your brooding anti-hero, make him a bit on the slow side, then give him a lot of familial responsibility and you've got Robby Strange. He handles it all well, considering.

In many ways I was reminded of M. Night Shyamalan's in its examination of the burdens of having any kind of special power. Especially something like knowing who the bad guys are and having to decide what to do now.

One of the things about realistic characters is that, like real people, they are infuriatingly self-centered at times, and often their own worst enemies. This makes for some very tense reading at times, as the reader is forced to wonder who will win — the villains, the protagonist, or the protagonist's self-destructive traits.

And that's a nice problem for a reader to have.

— Dotar Sojat, Vol IV, No. 1 (January 2007)

Strange Robby is many things — a love story, a sci-fi tale, a murder mystery, a dark comedy — all rolled into one. Really, it's just a good read. The book focuses on a police detective named Spider Webb (the unusual moniker was a gift from her eccentric late mother) and her partner Tommy Chan, set sometime in the not too distant future. Spider and Tommy are working one of the biggest cases in the history of Shea City. They're on the trail of a serial killer the media has dubbed "The Fry Guy," so named because his modus operandi involves melting his victims' brains right out of their heads with some unknown weapon.

The thing is, Tommy and Spider aren't really sure they want to catch this guy. The people he's offing are not technically innocent victims but rather repeat offenders who've slipped through the gaping cracks in the system. Nasty customers, one and all. It's hard for the two detectives, seasoned pros, to look too hard for a guy who's essentially doing their job for them...only better. The Fry Guy, more commonly known to those around him as the title character, Strange Robby, isn't your typical serial psycho. He's got a special talent, more than one actually.

Rosen paints incredibly vivid pictures, and her writing is really tight. I loved these characters, not one of whom is completely perfect or infallible. Rosen populates the book with people who are good, bad, evil, and just about every shade of grey in between. People who love their families and those who love, or hate, their jobs. People who make mistakes. Real, normal people that you can identify with — even the ones who aren't exactly "normal." This is the real strength of the piece, along with Rosen's razor sharp wit and sense of humor. Spider is a fabulous main character, a strong female lead, incomparable. She's not a real girly woman, nor is she very masculine; she's very definitely a woman, a tough cookie who doesn't take any crap off of anyone. She's a decorated veteran of a war, a top detective, and member of the SWAT team.

Certain elements of the story reminded me of Stephen King's Firestarter with a secret government agency, paranormal abilities, and genetic experimentation. And if you don't know by now what a huge King fan I am, then let me assure you that's high praise. But Strange Robby is definitely its own story.

This book was not a funhouse, it was not a carnival ride. Don't expect a roller-coaster because you won't find it here. But it's strong, sassy, funny, and interesting and completely unique…just like Spider. Rosen managed to keep track of all the intertwining threads of the tale and eventually tie them off into a neat bundle, which includes a story with a heck of a punch. I enjoyed the story quite a bit...its darkness, its humanity, and especially its humor. I laughed out loud often and well. If you're looking for a terror train that's jumped the tracks, out of control and zipping along at breakneck speed, then this isn't for you. But if you're looking for a solid story with likable characters, not to mention some intrigue and murder (people explode…it's pretty cool) enough to sweeten the pot, I think you'll enjoy Strange Robby.

— Morgan Ploutz, April 2006

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