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Say, Don’t Get Sore, See?

In a world gone mad, there's only one man who can save us. And that hero's name is...Charlie Chaplin? What the hell? But he's only one of The Sixteen Burdens.

Say, Don’t Get Sore, See?

BOOK REPORT for The Sixteen Burdens by David Khalaf

Cover Story: Art Deco
Drinking Buddy: Aces
Testosterone Level: A Little Chin Music
Talky Talk: The Shadow Knows
Bonus Factor: One of Those Weird Cabals That Last for Centuries
Bromance Status: Friendship Born of Chaos

Cover Story: Art Deco

This was a Create Space book, meaning it's more of less self-published. Either the author had this cover professionally made or knows someone who can draw, because the minimalist retro cover really works for me.

The Deal:

Los Angeles, 1939. So Gray Studebaker hasn't had an easy life. Not only does he have the world's stupidest name, but he lives in an orphanage for polio-stricken youth (which is odd, since he does not have the disease). Gray spends his time selling maps of the stars' homes and reading detective novels. He longs to become a gumshoe himself, he even bought a fedora and everything (this is the thirties, so he's not a hipster). Now if he could just find a case to solve. And figure out why when he bleeds, his blood flies upward.

Meanwhile, a young woman named Elsie works in a sleazy casino, trying to pay off her late father's gambling debts and take care of her kid sister, Lulu. But Elsie is no ordinary taxi dancer. No, she can sense exactly how all the gamblers are feeling, who has a good hand, who's bluffing. A very useful talent for the casino owners. But she longs for a better life, somewhere safer and more glamorous.

And in the barrios, a young man named Panchito longs for revenge against the men who killed his father, the famous Pancho Villa. Panchito has no fear. Ever. It's almost uncanny.

But then, one night, everything changes. Something big and weird is happening. A serial killer is knocking off B list actresses all around Hollywood. The trio are separately attacked by a gang of circus performers. The three nobodies are suddenly sucked into a world of intrigue and mystery. It seems there's a secret cabal of sixteen people who each have a godlike talent, passed down for thousands of years. Solomon's wisdom. Joan of Arc's Courage. Samson's strength. And now the gifted ones--the burdens--are gathering in California. Charlie Chaplin. Mary Pickford. Douglas Fairbanks. Howard Hughes. Someone wants their talents. Someone big and scary. And Gray, backed by Elsie and Panchito, may hold the key to everything.

Drinking Buddy: Aces

Gray is not a socially adept kid, having grown up in a home for boys. When he's suddenly thrust into a world of intrigue and celebrity, he's awkward as hell, wearing his battered fedora to black tie events, insisting on referring to Elsie as 'Doll Face', and devouring food whenever he gets any. Elsie is determined to claim the reward money for finding the murderer, and isn't particularly interested in how she does it. Panchito has an almost insane violent streak, even though he's a tubby awkward young man. Lulu has that annoying little sister thing going on. The stars seem to use our heroes only when it's convenient. Chaplin actually sends Elsie back to stay with her violent mafia boss.

But I really liked the kids. Gray is a likeable everyman, determined to do the right thing, and maybe become a real private dick. Elsie wants to get out of the casino game and take her sister somewhere safe. Panchito wants to play the hero, just like his famous revolutionary father.

Together, these three blunder their way through movie premires, assanination attempts, and circus sideshows, all trying prevent an army of indestructible musclemen from taking over the world.

God help us.

Testosterone Level: A Little Chin Music

Eight-foot-tall bullet proof man? Check. Deadly female Jamaican knife thrower? Check. Dramatic 'I am your mother' revelations? Oh yeah. Zoot suit rioters? Of course. Corrupt police, vampires, and treasure maps? Yes! An amusing talking dog that speaks in rhyme?

No. That would be stupid. But there were car chases. That always sells me.

The other side of the testosterone coin was somewhat lacking. Gray and Elsie get off on the wrong foot and spend the novel sniping at each other and trying to be the biggest hero. But there is smolder, and since this is the first of a trilogy, hopefully something will develop in the sequel.

Talky Talk: The Shadow Knows

Now 1930s Los Angeles was a great setting, though at some points it was a little heavy handed. Most of the people talked like contemporary characters with random thirties slang tacked on. Leapin' Lizards! And the occasional pop culture references seemed forced. "Hey, did you hear what that guy Adolf Hitler is up to? Now let's hurry up and go to the Gone With the Wind premier. Hey, have you seen this new comic book called Superman?"

But this was a magical era, and Khalaf certainly did his homework. It's nice to imagine Chaplin's womanizing, Hughes's insanity, and Pickford's reclusiveness were all the result of an incredible mystery.

And there was a big old climatic fight at the Tournament of Roses parade, with Shirley Temple caught in the middle. Don't tell me you've never wanted to see that.

Bonus Factor: One of Those Weird Cabals That Last for Centuries

The Sixteen Burdens is apparently a society that goes back for millennia. So it's fun to try to guess who some of the previous members were. The incredibly old Eastern European guy. The Serbian anarchist. And everyone's favorite English physicist. No, not Stephen Hawking.

Bromance Status: Friendship Born of Chaos

I only picked this book up because I was desperate for something to read, but I have a feeling we've formed a long term bond.

Full disclosure: I received an e copy of this book from the author, but no money, booze, or secrets of the universe. The Sixteen Burdens is available now.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.