Embry: Hard-Boiled—A Weird Little Egg Cooked Just Right
A review by Brendan Vidito
Cooking eggs properly is an art form. It’s all too easy to break the yoke when you crack one into a frying pan, and if you’re like me, seeing that yellow ooze leaking across the non-stick surface will drive you into a foaming rage. The sad truth is that very few people know how to get eggs just right.
Enter Michael Allen Rose in a fine silk bathrobe and, inexplicably, some kind of medieval helmet. He’s holding a breakfast tray with an egg cooked to near perfection. But when you look closer, you realize the egg is actually a flat image on the cover of a book. And even though it’s made of cardboard, paper and glue, your mouth waters and you feel compelled to eat it anyway.
Imagine if Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett wrote about talking chickens and anthropomorphic eggs in muumuus and you’ll have a pretty good idea what kind of story we’re dealing with here. It follows Embry, a rooster private eye, who’s woken up in the middle of the night by egg police knocking on his door, demanding his arrest. The poor cock did nothing wrong, but he’s forced to escape from his window anyway, beginning an odyssey to prove his innocence and unravel the threads of a growing eggspiracy.
See what I did there? The book is filled with chicken or egg-related twists on familiar concepts and hilarious portmanteaus. There’s talk of an Eggluminati, eggbeaters are just as dangerous as firearms and there’s even a dance club called Omega 3. In the hands of a less talented writer, these instances of wordplay would come out sounding contrived, but Rose manages to make them work in a very humorous way. The story wouldn’t be the same without them.
Like most great works of Bizarro fiction, Embry: Hard-Boiled excels at world building. The city of Kingswall (a reference to the fairy tale Humpty Dumpty) feels oddly familiar, but it’s just weird enough to keep you wanting to turn the page and explore its seedy back alleys and slums. Its population consists of eggs and fowl. The fowl, Embry’s people, are shunned as a lower class of parasites, while the eggs enjoy a more comfortable middle to higher-class lifestyle. There’s obviously an underpinning of social commentary here, but it never overshadows or detracts from the story itself. If anything, it gives the book an extra layer of interest and complexity.
The plot moves at a brisk pace as Embry rushes from one perilous situation to another in his search for answers. Throughout all this, the book maintains a playful tone. Michael Allen Rose manages a careful balance between pathos and humor, never taking things too seriously or letting comedy dampen some of the story’s more dramatic moments. This is, without a doubt, his most well crafted book to date.
Despite its humorous tone, though, it’s important to remember that Embry: Hard-Boiled is ultimately a noir detective story. The plot and colorful cast of characters are bound to be familiar to those who’ve read within the genre, and Rose has fun with its well-worn tropes, embracing the familiar and using it to heighten the story’s levity. So, in other words, if you like noir complete with a femme fatale and a hard drinking rooster, order this book right now.
Speaking of femme fatale, if I have any complaints about Embry: Hard-Boiled it’s that I wish Ella Pollo, the chicken prostitute with a heart of gold, had a bit more “screen time”. She’s an intriguing and lovable character…and now I feel weird for thinking a chicken has an attractive personality. Thanks Michael Allen Rose!
This book is way too much not to enjoy. So if you’re tired of getting overcooked scrambled eggs, rest assured that this Bizarro omelet is done to gleeful perfection. Savor it and enjoy.
BRENDAN VIDITO is a novelist and short story writer from Northern Ontario. His stories have appeared in Splatterpunk Zine, Infernal Ink Magazine, Dark Moon Digest, and the recent anthology Splatterpunk’s Not Dead. You can visit him at brendanvidito.wordpress.com.