Anyone who dislikes the Elves with Machine Guns subgenre is invited to leave now.
A young man is driving along a highway towards Chicago to seek his fortune. (He is also driving away from his misfortunes but that seems to be part of the human condition.) The Chicago that the man seeks is not the Chicago of our world. After thousands of years the land of Faerie has returned to mundane Earth. We are given the impression that the return was not pleasant and there was much suffering as an aftermath. The part of faerie which is located in Chicago is called the Levee for obscure reasons.
The young man is in time to witness an apparent gangland shoot out between two large and mysterious cars. He uses his skills as an emergency medical technician to save the life of one of the shooting victims. Another of the car's occupants, a human crime boss, is grateful and immediately gives the young man a job.
Because no one uses their real name in the Levee and because he was born on Halloween night, paramedic Daniel Holman is quickly dubbed Doc Hallownight. (Get it?)
No explanations are forthcoming about why Elfland reappeared: it just did. And 19 year old Danny is born into a world where Chicago always had elves as gangsters.
No one answers questions directly in this book. Everyone replies to Doc's queries with a story or parable or semi-riddle or example. After some reflection and cogitation on his part young Doc usually nods his understanding and continues on. The reader is left to scratch his head and keep reading. (Yes, you have to think about some things in this book. Is there anyone left out there?)
Although we don't meet many of them, Elves are everywhere in the Levee. Elfland uses the Earth as a dumping ground for its unwanted low level royalty, much like the United States was used at one time. Magic is also everywhere but much less certain. Spells which worked in Elfland sometimes have unexpected consequences in the Levee. Guns and cars don't always work but many people carry swords.
The Levee itself seems to be an odd mix of Chicago during the Roaring 20' and the Chicago of the 1990's. Parts of it seems very old and well maintained or lies in ruins. Other parts seem very shiny and new as if the modern world is leaking in from one side while Faerie oozes in from the other.
The Last Hot Time is very Dhalgren-esque at times. Our main character freely but naively wanders into a known Strange Situation and prospers but never really knows what is going on. (You've all read the book Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, right?)
While it is a coming of age book (Danny turns 20 about halfway through) Hot Time has several underlying themes which are hinted at but never explored. One of the more salient of these is sex and power. (If you think I am being redundant there, I feel sorry for you.) One of the forms of power in the Levee is Magic of course and many of the players, both on and off screen, seem to spend a lot of time trying to acquire more. The results are often quite deadly.
Although I enjoyed it I was struck by the lack of originality in The Last Hot Time. When I started reading it the thought that sprang to mind was "This is a Borderlands book." (I also enjoyed the various Borderlands stories and books.) Mr. Ford has taken well used material and crafted it into a very readable and enjoyable book. I suspect Mr. Ford, who has been associated with several of the Borderlands authors, just could not get clearance to use the name. Too bad: Hot Time would have been a good addition to the Borderlands continuum.
(As an aside, John M. Ford also wrote the best Star Trek novel ever, The Final Reflection. Okay, so he broke the rules, it's still the best. Find a copy of that and ignore the rest.)
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