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Bureau 13: Damned Nation Paperback – August 3, 2005
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Set in the early dark days of the American Civil War, this is the story of the very first case of the very first agent of Bureau-13. The Agency starts as a response to an assassination attempt on President Lincoln that requires a less public investigation than the military can be involved in thanks to the presence of the press. The man who saves the President's life is made a special Federal Marshall and sent upon his way with near carte blanche approach to his actions to do his duty. A man he trusts completely to do the job with loyalty and an open mind. A man willing to face dangers worse than those of the battlefields themselves.
The Man : J.P. Withers, presidential butler. The danger that leads to his appointment? A Supernatural horror that slipped thru the Capital defenses in the night and got close enough for President Lincoln to punch it in the jaw.
This is a more serious novel than many of Nick Pollotta's previous Bureau 13 stories. It lacks the silliness of his recent non-Bureau novel That Darn Squid God and this actually makes a tighter paced and better written work. It's not without it's humor, but when the humor is there it is of the more ironic level than the sometimes outright slapstick that can be found in his other books. It tells the story, it fills in the blanks for those familiar with the bits and pieces told in the stories later in the sequence, and is far more consistent in many ways in regards to details.
It's not perfect. There are a few minor faux pas in regards to history, but nothing that drastically affects the plot or character actions. They are noticible because of the use of detail on other levels that show the author's research on the civil war, such as on weapons and the membership of Lincoln's cabinet and the layout of the Capital building etc. It's the usual problem with a historical novel, for every detail you remember to check and cover there is inevitably something that some nit picker, history buff or historian will note and complain about. Ignore them and you'll find it a much more pleasant novel.
If you've been curious about the Bureau-13 series, this may be a good place to start, rather than reading the stories in 'published order'.
It's a reasonably fast, humorous read, despite it's 321 oversized paperback pages, and worth the time and effort to find (getting it from a local book seller may be a bit difficult, as Wildside has some problems with some of the distributors out there, but it can be found online in a lot of places). I give it a solid 4 stars out of 5, and thus a Keeper for the bookshelf and worth re-reading at a future date.
Lest future enemies seek revenge on the new Marshall, Witherspoon changes his name to J.P. Withers. And now, Marshall Withers, woefully armed and lacking in arcane occult knowledge, must quickly catch himself up with mythology of the creatures of the night and achieve results lest malignant, mystical forces birth a truly damned nation. It's a good thing Withers is gifted with good common sense, as well as benefiting from a somewhat shady upbringing. J.P. Withers' discoveries and actions, in short time, lead the president to create a maverick department - answerable only to Abe Lincoln - to be in charge of all things occult. Withers is again promoted, this time to the rank of a United States Special Agent, given carte blanche and the power to command the military, answerable only to the President.
In the meantime, Withers must get used to his new status as he contends with werewolves, evil mirror twins, zombies, malevolent spells, a flying hell house, and the Drell, who are unstoppable, evil creatures equipped with four arms, three eyes, wiggling tendrils...and doctor's bags. On a less supernatural front, he also finds himself facing off against the more mundane criminals of the world. And jealous lieutenants.
After many years and with this new entry, Nick Pollotta finally writes a new Bureau 13 adventure - sort of. This time, he tells us of the genesis of Bureau 13 (named by Lincoln in honor of the 13 original colonies), and its inaugural member. It's true that, this time, Pollotta isn't as spoofy, as heavy handed with the puns and the broad humor (although there are groan-inducing hints of those here and there). This results in a more gripping novel with a higher sense of jeopardy for the lead character.
What also escalates the sense of drama is that Withers, a total amateur with no background at monster slaying, seems always to be a step behind and a hair's breadth away from getting his [...] handed to him. Also, unlike the present, vastly experienced Bureau 13 (shout out to Team Tunafish!), there aren't any proven procedures to fall back on. Withers has to constantly experiment with weaponry and other things (kosher salt, a crucifix, juju bags, silver...) to combat the various forms of beasties. And the level of technology at his disposal, of course, is 19th-century efficient (or deficient). So in the dark is the marshall that he finds himself consulting rabbis and circus fortune tellers. Fortunately for him, he comes across a fellow special agent (for the Confederates) to help him in his fight against the unholy creatures.
In this newest installment, Pollotta once again shows off his taut pacing, tight plotting, and his penchant for crazy beastie mayhem. In the final 50 pages, he takes the kid gloves off and treats the reader to an all-out, actionfest as Withers and his partner Logan descend into the pits of the hell house. One flaw I find with this book is the less than thorough proof-reading (tsk, tsk, Wildside Press). Not to be a grammarian or anything, but some of the obvious errors on page threw me off and momentarily bumped me out of the Bureau 13 universe. But, ultimately, the quality of Pollotta's work more than overcomes that. Anyway, I hope there's a sequel in the works for J.P. Withers, not to mention further books centering around Team Tunafish. This book, needless to say, is recommended.