Validation. That is the word that comes to mind when I think of Jonathan Latt’s first book The Geek. But validation for whom you may ask? Based on the title is it validation for geeks everywhere? Is it validation for all those things that geeks are into? Or is it validation for Latt?
In a word, “yes.”
The Geek is a dark book, and while I have read my share of those, they are usually part of a series of books where the tone starts light and then moves into darkness, only to find its way back into light. With those books I am already emotionally invested into the world that has been built and the characters that exist there. Gini Koch’s books with Katherine “Kitty” Katt are a prime example. By the time that series goes dark I’m already onboard for the ride. Jonathan Latt’s book is a completely different matter. It can be a very tricky thing to find a new audience with a dark, pulp fiction thriller that has no prior book to hang its hat on, and yet Latt has created something that I can only regard as a triumph.
Latt’s protagonist is a man in his late 30’s, and his name is Gary Geiecki. He has a very “colorful” occupation. He’s an assassin. I’m not giving any spoilers here as this very detail is given in page 3 of the book. In fact he’s very successful, and even feared. He even takes “The Geek” as his codename, in part because he is something of a geek. He dresses like most simple geeks do (his manner of dress made me smile as 99% of what he wears is the same as how I dress), and he has a love for comic books.
He loves superheroes. As with most geeks growing up, we tend to get picked on, bullied, even beaten up. Sometimes it is with repetition. Superhero comic books are the escape because they can represent that greater ideal, that someone with great power (Superman), or with a great weapon (Green Lantern), or even with simply great abilities (Batman) can stand up on behalf of those who are unable to do so themselves. This could be the very reason why Gary loves and collects comic books. Latt clearly shows his love and knowledge for comic books by making references to rare issues (which I did catch and gave serious applause to) that helps to give a sense of depth and dimension to a character that some people even today would dismiss merely as a transparent nerd.
As with many superheroes in the comic book universe, their path to becoming a superhero is birthed out of pain. They are faced to confront something tragic that serves as the defining moment of change. Gary has that moment. A single event alters his way of thinking and he chooses a new road to journey down, but as with all roads his destination was one he could not have anticipated. He becomes more than just a highly skilled man. He becomes more than just a very deadly man. He becomes more than just an assassin. He becomes a superhero.
Latt has taken great care to create characters that are fully formed and realized. This is key if you’re going to tell a story that starts right from the start as being dark and violent. Even when we first meet Gary it is not on the best of terms. He is on an assignment. We are seeing Gary the assassin. Gary, The Geek. It’s after that one assignment ends that we start to meet Gary the man, Gary the nerd. Gary the geek, and in spite of his incredible skills, he’s a really nice guy. He’s just as human, and in some ways even vulnerable, as anyone of us. He could be your best friend while growing up. He could even be you in another life. Gary is a really good guy.
As with all stories with superheroes, you need to have your super villain. To use the Batman analogy, Gary has not only his own Joker to deal with, but he has Harley Quinn as well. Villains of this caliber can be the toughest to write for, but once again Latt has done a marvelous job of having them fully formed and realized in his head before we even get to meet them. They are very quirky in their own way, and while we find ourselves filled with anticipation to the big showdown, we are also filled with a sense of dread because we fear that someone may die from this, for even though the villains (Schmitt and Greta) are evil, by making them as three dimensional as they are we find ourselves slightly sympathetic towards them. Perhaps we even learn to like them somewhat.
Along the way there are a myriad of other characters who come into play, some only a little, and others that leave you with a sense of mystery. Even as the story unfolds with some of these mysterious characters we are given more “left turns.” Latt very deftly gives us some unusual and surprising bread crumbs for us to follow, only to turn it around and deliver a shock that had me yelling “WHAT?” on more than one occasion.
This is a magnificent book. The story, with its twists and turns, and more twists and more turns, and then even MORE twists and MORE turns, is like riding Space Mountain at Disneyland for the very first time. Because the ride is in almost total darkness you can’t see which way the track is going to go. You don’t know if it will go right, left, or even down. The same is with The Geek. Just when you have a sense that it will take a left turn (making the reader feel overly confident and clever) Latt decides to take the story in a different direction, making the reader breathless as if on a roller coaster in the dark. And yet, with all of the detailed, plot-driven story that is The Geek, its characters are just as equally strong. Our superhero, Gary, is such a likable character. No, not character. He’s a person. He’s my friend Bill from grade school, or my friend Randy from junior high, or my friends Paul or (coincidentally enough) Gary from high school. He’s me. He’s completely real in my mind, and if I ever had the chance to meet Gary Geiecki I would walk up to him and give him a hug. Not because of his service in his line of work, but because of the person he really is. That’s why The Geek resonates so strongly within me. It’s not just our revenge to those who maligned us because of our nerdy passions, rather it shows that we can become a force for good that can make a difference in other people’s lives.
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