Book Review : S.W Lauden - Grizzly Season (2016)
S.W Lauden is a California-based author and musician who made a great first impression last year with his debut novel Bad Citizen Corporation. The book was a critical darling and somewhat the talk of the town last year. Lauden remained very busy nonetheless in 2016, publishing short stories and a novella titled Crosswise. Grizzly Season is the direct sequel of Bad Citizen Corporation and the second volume of Greg Salem mysteries, the Californian punk rock legend turned cop turned off the grid investigator. It certainly has a lot to live up to given how successful the first one was. Is Grizzly Season a good novel? Yep. Is it on par with Bad Citizen Corporation? This is a more complicated question. Let's get into it.
Grizzly Season picks up little time after the events of Bad Citizen Corporation. Greg Salem has retreated from society and now lives in a secluded cabin with his ex-drummer Marco in a Californian national park. They live a simple, yet alienated lifestyle until the day they hike too deep into the forest and stumble upon Grizzly Flats, a drug utopia lead by a demented, bear-loving pot grower who calls himself Magnus Ursus (and who calls every woman on site Ursula for some reason). Turns out Magnus has been keeping tabs on Greg since he moved into his forest and has plans for him in his revolutionary drug empire. Bearman obviously didn't do his home work on what kind of man Greg is or maybe he didn't care, but shit hits the fan and Greg is back into a murderous tailspin.
The burning question fans of Bad Citizen Corporation will have toward Grizzly Season is: are these just microwaved leftovers? Is S.W Lauden just recycling a successful formula? Well, yes and no. He made a tangible effort to distance himself from Bad Citizen Corporation in Grizzly Season: it explores a different Californian setting, a different theme, introduces new characters, etc. Lauden clearly doesn't live in the past and tries to move the series forward. Grizzly Season can't escape what it is, though: a sprawling Californian mystery and Bad Citizen Corporation is the exact same thing. Given the nature of S.W Lauden's unadorned, matter-of-fact prose, the experience of reading Grizzly Season feels a tad similar except that it doesn't have the magic of the first once because you're not discovering something new anymore. Not really Lauden's fault, but it's a trap which every series authors is eventually susceptible to.
I'm usually not a fan of mysteries that involve the drug trade. The majority of them profoundly misunderstand the nature of the people who get rich selling poison to lost souls and the subgenre tends to wallow in easy, overcooked stereotypes. These is nothing more boring to me than the soulless, decadent Mexican character selling heroin. S.W Lauden managed to avoid this garbage by creating the suspended reality of Grizzly Flats. This is what I really liked about Grizzly Season: is isn't a novel about the drug trade. It is a novel about American drug paranoia. Magnus Ursus is a boogeyman hellbent on either indoctrinating young minds or destroying them with his new, demented, hypertoxic drug. He inspires the kind of terror that keeps concerned mothers up at night. He's a cult leader, a slave-owner and a smut dealer all at once. How many times have I told you a novel can only be as great as its antagonist? Grizzly Season is another example. Magnus Ursus and the suspended, nightmare reality he seems to live in make the novel successful.
I have a thing for Californian novels, so I ended up really liking Grizzly Season. Maybe the magic of discovering something new had eroded a little, but the good news is that it doesn't have to if you haven't read S.W Lauden yet. While I would suggest starting with Bad Citizen Corporation because there are slight references in Grizzly Season, it isn't mandatory to read them in order and you can begin with the volume that inspires you the most. Greg Salem is a cool protagonist. A respectable drifter torn between the emergency of the moment and a glorious past life. Magnus Ursus is a wicked antagonist, though. A man living his American Dream, yet wrecking lives and tearing families apart for profit. He's the walking contradiction America is afraid of. Read S.W Lauden for the Greg Salem mysteries, but definitely read Grizzly Season for Magnus Ursus. I had clear expectations going into it, so it didn't wow me as much as Bad Citizen Corporation which came out of the left field, but it's a strong addition to a building series. Looking forward to the next one.