Book Title: The Hex Is In – The Fast Life and Fantastic Times of Harry the Book
Author: Mike Resnick
Preface: Carol Resnick
Introduction By: Lezli Robyn
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Chris the book reviewer here, sitting in Harry the Book’s office, which is the third booth at Joey Chicago’s Three-Star Tavern, sipping an Old Peculiar and talking about Mike Resnick’s collection of humorous short stories. Harry is a bookie who takes bets on just about anything, from horse races, dragon races, eating contests, boxing matches, beauty contests, mayoral elections, and much more.
His cash flow goes up and down as he lays down long and short odds on everything. As a result, sometimes he loses big. He doesn’t like that part, especially if someone is cheating to win, which happens all the time. He tries to prevent this as much as possible. But when the hex is in, Harry calls on his own personal mage, Big-Hearted Milton, to help him thwart these sneaky swindlers.
Many of these wagers are the result of a behind-the-scenes battle between one mage or another. Sometimes, these mages are evenly matched, sometimes they aren’t. Trying to figure who hexed who and when for what purpose and then watch them struggle to try to outwit the other is all part of the fun. It also results in many situations where I wondered how Harry might come out on top of any particular predicament.
Betting is going on all the time and there’s plenty of problems Harry must solve to keep from paying out on longshot bets that were hexed. There are horse races and boxing matches that end in unusual ways, a gorilla problem at the bar that escalates rapidly, relationship issues, and a werewolf in a dog competition.
There are also beauty pageants where the rightful winner loses for all the wrong reasons, Christmas Eve dancing competitions, plum pudding being crucial to counteracting a difficult hex (!), betting to see if Gently Gently Dawkins can lose a lot of weight and too many women being attracted to a man who won a lot of money.
Some of my favorite stories in this collection include the one with Nick the Saint (yes, it’s whom you think it is), hanging out in a sports club, where Harry bets on the names of all of Santa’s reindeer. I would also point my finger at another favorite of mine, like the eating contest with an impossible situation that resolves itself in a very surprising way. There are lots of very ingenious resolutions, unpredictable predicaments, and tons of laughter as I read.
Each story has some different situations where you never know what’s going to happen next, what someone is going to say about any given situation, and how Harry is going to respond to the latest attempt to make money off him. It’s all written in a breezy style that features clever conclusions to stories where I had no idea how it would end.
Lest you think these are stories about people who enjoy gambling, which it is, it’s also set in a fantasy realm where no one thinks twice about dragons racing, snake-headed Medusa’s dating, zombies enforcing, harpies flying through the air and spellcasting is commonplace. Let’s not forget Nick the Saint flirting in a bar on Christmas Eve with someone who is not his wife.
Each story is told from Harry the Book’s point of view. He’s a likable bookie looking out for himself, doing what it takes to win, and make sure he doesn’t have to lose his money. But he’s not the only one, as everyone out there is trying to make a (dishonest) buck.
There are plenty of colorful characters that inhabit all these stories in one way or another, proving to be comedic foils for Harry the Book’s various escapades. All of them are lovable in their own ways and make us laugh with them as they experience comedic trials and tribulations.
There’s Big-Hearted Milton, who is forever casting hexes on the woman he loves, Mitzi McSweeney, after fighting about one thing or another. All the time, his hexes backfire and cause him more problems than they do to Mitzi. He’s always in his office, the men’s room of Joey Chicago’s Three-Star Tavern. There, he casts spells using pentagrams and candles, chanting in ancient Aramaic, or maybe even French, according to Harry.
Together, Harry and Milton go on many merry misadventures, along with Gently Gently Dawkins, a man whose appetite is so voracious, he’s always eating and tends to be one donut shy of four hundred pounds. There’s also Dead End Dugan, a six-foot, ten-inch zombie enforcer who has died too many times to count. He also spends a lot of time standing in a corner thinking dead thoughts and can’t get used to being a zombie.
Let’s not forget Benny Fifth Street either, who’s not too bright, and has a fondness for crossword puzzles that he can never figure out the answers to. Things like finding a four-letter word for “stupid” or a three-letter word for “firearm”. But don’t you dare call them stooges or toadies, Harry calls them his flunkies.
I think of Joey Chicago’s Three-Star Tavern like the bar in the television show “Cheers” for the fantasy genre. There’s a vast cast of characters who pop in and out of the various stories in this collection. Everyone also has some kind of appellation added to their name. No one has a plain name and everyone stands out in a crowd of eclectic and unusual characters.
There are boxers like the inept Kid Testosterone and popular Bonecrusher McDade, to Bubbles La Tour, described as the Secretariat of women with her beauty. There’s Longshot Lamont, who never met a long-shot bet he didn’t like and Morris the Mage, a second-rate spellcaster who often competes with Big-Hearted Milton as well as Harry’s client Bet-a-Million McNabb. There are so many more unique and quirky characters than just these and this book is bursting at the seams because it’s filled with them.
The more you read, the more comfortable you get with the universe of stories created here by the author. Like Cheers, where everyone knows your name, the Three-Star Tavern is populated with many memorable people who always come in to have a drink and place their bets.
Neither the stories nor the characters are ever evil, malicious, or mean-spirited. It’s all in good, light-hearted and irreverent entertainment in the name of making some money. And who doesn’t want more of that in their lives?
I’m always appreciative of humorous short stories in the science fiction and fantasy genres I read. Humor is so subjective, one reader might find it funny and for another reader, it falls flat. So, as the old saying goes, dying is easy, comedy is hard. The author makes it look easy telling creative stories like these. The humor flies fast and furious and never lets up or takes itself seriously. It knows it is ludicrous and revels in its setting.
The first sentence of this review is very reminiscent of the beginning of a lot of the fifteen short stories to be found in this delightful collection. It’s also a great indicator of what you can expect here, the way it sets the table for many unpredictable stories and the superlative shenanigans Harry gets involved in.
Each story is filled with plenty of wit, humorous asides, and hilarious hijinks. It can occasionally be bawdy, but it never veers out of family-friendly territory. The humor doesn’t disrupt the flow of the story and is so well blended into the tale it is telling; each one flows seamlessly from one scene to the next.
Like your favorite television show that you watch week after week, you enjoy the characters, the familiar setting with a fantasy twist, and the humor that is derived from it and the world around it. It’s as cool as winning fifty large while drinking your favorite beer and it grows on you with its charm, delightful absurdity, and imaginative sense of humor where almost nothing is off-limits.
This book is published by UFO Publishing. It’s Editor-in-Chief, Alex Shvartsman, has written and published many humorous and terrific stories that I’ve enjoyed in the past. Based on that, the odds were excellent that I’d be on board to read and review this one when I was offered an advance reader copy of this ebook.
This prolific author is a Hugo and Nebula award-winning author whom I’ve never read before. Based on his strong and winning sense of humor, it won’t be the last. This is the first time these Harry the Book stories have been collected in one volume and it makes for a winning collection that I bet you will love. Plunk down some hard-won cash on this and get ready for some fantastical and fun stories that will work their storytelling magic on you.
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