Chris Thurman’s Chimera is an interesting bit of noir mob story with some urban sci-fi tinges.
When the son of a prominent Russian mafia boss loses his kid brother, he dedicates the rest of his life to finding him. Ten years later, the twenty-five year is now a mob enforcer, and the unexpected happens. He actually finds his brother.
Chimera surprised me several times as I went through it. As a general rule I loathe mob fiction. I don’t particularly care for stories where the moral compass goes from blood-spattered gray to dark as the heart of hell, and most mob stories I know like to live in that neighborhood.
One element that kept me going through the story was the concept that for the main character, the Russian mob was where he grew up, but he only sees it as a means to an end: finding and saving his kidnapped little brother. When he does find the seventeen year old in the clutches of an evil scientist, he will move heaven and earth to get him back.
What follows is framed as a bit of a chase film, mixed in with elements of the fantastic/supernatural. When psychic powers show up it’s an area where mythology and science blur together. The tough brother and sheltered lab rat of a little brother hit on some solid buddy-cop character dynamics as they try to reconcile and bond. There is a fair amount of action involved when both the Russian mob and the evil science organization get in on the chase.
The book will probably be successful because it hits on the modern American Zeitgeist. The Family (not a typo) is the most important thing in all of life and existence. God is predominantly absent and irrelevant. Porn is the principle interest of teenage boys. Science can unleash our limitless potential. Also, we can demonstrate our goodness by a willingness to hospitalize, torture, and kill sex offenders, which will make all the other terrible things we do somehow better because we can torture people everyone hates.
Sigh. At least the pedophile was a doctor and not a priest. Other than that, one American stereotype after another gets banged on, but things don’t become cliche unless they work.
Thurman has steady, non-flashy voice that dips occasionally into purple prose when he tries to hard to make his thug main character wax philosophical. There were two or three times when I half expected a reference to rosey-fingered Dawn to reach across the horizon.
Thurman’s characterization is his strongest suit as an author. He presents dramatically exaggerated, wildly memorable people in role after role as the refugee brothers hit the road, and even before.
The end result is a novel that is readable (or Audible in my case) and worthy to fill some dead air on a long drive, provided there are no children present.
Some quick theological points that this story brought out for me:
Morality is not a zero-sum game. The evil we do condemns us, and there is a lot of “prison logic” presented here. I don’t deal drugs or touch children so I’m a much better person, even though I beat, maim, cripple, kill, threaten, extort, and steal repeatedly as a mob enforcer. I once listened to a prison psychologist take this thought process full circle, because the drug dealer says they only give people what they want, it isn’t like they killed anybody, so on and so forth. Contrast that with the Bible’s message that when we break the laws of morality, we break them all, because the problem is the heart-level issue of sinfulness and rebellion.
Family is a good and beautiful thing, but it is right up there with sex as the true American idol. The brothers can lie, cheat, steal, kill, murder, and more, and it is ultimately a good-guy thing because they are family. I would contrast this with Jesus’ repeated mention that we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, that even sinners love those who love them, and that his true family are those who obey his father in heaven.
We don’t show our morality by mutilating, hating, and torturing scum who really deserve it. We show Christian love when we do what Christ does: Loving, forgiving, showing patience and kindness to scum who really deserve it, because we in the church were that scum, and it is only Christ who makes the difference.
One thing the story does well: Love sacrifices. It endures. It embraces despite differences. It perseveres. It hopes. Ultimately, family can be something forged by love as well as something determined by reproductive fluids.
That’s good news, since God calls us a family.
In closing, Chris Thurman’s Chimera was surprisingly enjoyable for a mob story, which in my case means I finished it without wanting to vomit a lot. I really hate mob stories, but I had fun finishing this one. That’s about the best recommendation I can give for the genre. Moderately recommended.