Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Knox [ep01.01 & 01.02]

Thanks to a full schedule and my own general messiness, I’m a little late to the party with regards to Serial Box’s latest supernatural noir, Knox. But with a kickass team of writers and a description that seems Just My Thing, I am happy to jump into a new project. And so far? Yes please! The series joins a noir-ish detective feel with paranormal elements, a diverse cast of characters, and some grisly murders. It’s great! There’s just enough weird here are the start to set the hook, and I’m both terrified and excited about where the action will go next. But it’s a smart, tightly paced suspense story with a sprinkling of speculative elements and the promise that things are going to get bloody and weird and I am Here For That. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews of the first two episodes!


“The Book Collector” by K Arsenault Rivera (ep01.01)

No Spoilers: Morgan Knox in a private eye in a post-World War I New York, hot on the trail of a serial killer (or assassin, but same deal) who just happens to walk into the building where she was talking to her client. It’s quite the opening to this rather gritty and mysterious paranormal mystery, one that finds the Puerto Rican main character dealing with not just a tower of systemic issues but her own psychic powers and a deep desire to figure out the truth no matter the cost. On her side is a grumpy cabby, a dead mentor, a trusty sidearm, and a whole lot of grit, determination, and experience. But will it be enough when mysteries only lead to deeper mysteries and answers slip away with the slick of blood and rushing water.
Keywords: Detectives, Psychics, Murders, Books, Alt-History
Review: This is a rather brief opening chapter but it definitely gives readers a crash course in the characters, mood, and what we’ll need to know going forward. It starts off with the sharp report of a gun and shattering glass and a rather breathless chase through an alt-historical New York. Just how alt remains to be seen, but with a psychic detective and a man who can jump out of a window and spring across part of a city, I’m guessing the paranormal elements are only going to play a larger role in the action going forward. Which, I mean, is definitely My Kinda Thing. I love the psychic detective trope and this project is off to a rather killer start with everything. It’s noir without centering a repressed white guy. It unfolds in the lingering shadows of the war but I’m holding out hope that this is going to stay more interesting than devolving into a simple Secret Nazis story line. Given the cryptic nature of Knox’s client and the speed at which the police opted to end the suspect she was chasing, I’m guessing this is going to be a tangled web, indeed.

For me, it’s just enough to whet the appetite. It’s a quick intro into the time period and the characters. Knox herself rightly gets the most explanation, placing her with a bit of chip on her shoulder and a lot of reasons to feel like she might be the only one capable of getting to the truth. She’s been let down by a lot of people, especially the authorities, and so she’s taken matters into her own hands. She seems perpetually short of funds, her body starting to crap out on her, and somehow she’s retained some scruples despite everything. Still, she’s got at least one friend and ally and probably a bit more in her network of people she’s helped. The city here is slumbering but hungry when woken. It’s a back drop of that post-war optimism meeting the grim realities of New York and the ways the city can devour people, the ways that corruption is already spreading to that the landscape feels like a system of little kingdoms all warring for power rather than a single whole. It’s dirty, dangerous, and it’s hard to say exactly how Knox feels about it yet. Except that it’s home, and she does seem concerned about the people, unwilling to give up on them even as most people have given up on her. The series gets its hits in and then lets the mystery simmer, and I for one am very excited to see what happens next. A great read!

“Two Dames” by K Arsenault Rivera (ep01.02)

No Spoilers: After two weeks looking into the events of last episode, this chapter pulls Knox into a new mystery thanks to a friend on the police force. Only when the “new” case turns out to have ties to her ongoing investigation, her role in things shifts from suspect. This episode finishes the ground work started in the last episode, introducing who are probably going to be the core cast and raising the stakes in Knox’s mystery, all while drawing her (and the readers) deeper into dangerous and darkened waters. As the cast increases, so too does the picture of Knox, as well as the city as a character and setting. Things are escalating quickly, and this second part hints at a much more interconnected narrative rather than a truly episodic experience.
Keywords: Police, Murder, Alt-History, Pool, Interrogations
Review: Like I said, this chapter pretty soundly places this project within a more continuous narrative structure rather than one that’s going to be neatly contained (or mostly neatly contained) episode to episode. So a bit more like The Vela than Ninth Step Station in terms of how I expect the action to flow. Which means this is likely going to be one hell of a ride. And really I do like how this chapter closes out the introduction phase of the story. We’ve now met Danny, Knox’s assistant, as well as Beaumont and Falcone, the local cops. It even introduces Dakota Slim, a deft hand at pool and likely the romantic interest of Knox (yay if true!). It also pulls Knox deeper into the mystery by making her a suspect (though I’m personally unconvinced that the body will end up being who it seems it is) and showing the division between her and the police (surprise a lot of it is racism!).

More than all of that, though, this chapter shows a very important thing for a noir story to show: the main character/detective has no luck at all. And the reason is mostly because they’re trying to do the right thing. Because everyone around Knox can see that in trying to help people she keeps on putting herself in harm’s way, and she ends up paying for it time and again. And it’s a much needed twist on the noir tropes because seriously the “bad luck” most of those characters have is that they make awful decisions and are misogynist asses while downplaying their privilege as much as possible. So instead of playing into racial resentment and the need for a Good White Guy to save things, we have a psychic (maybe queer) brown woman not out to save the day so much as push back as much as possible against the relentless tide of injustice that the city seems to produce. So that even her quiet moments trying to spend the night peacefully away from work are ruined because there’s still a part of her that can’t ignore someone in trouble. And even as she curses herself for being like this, she’s not about to turn her back on it, because she knows full well what happens when people turn their backs. And while the action takes a step back in this chapter, things are definitely building, and with the cast introduced, the core mystery can now start to get explored. It’s a dark and tense piece, complete with a little fun and flirting, and I am fully on board for the ride! A wonderful read!


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