Review by Ian Keogh
By any conventional standards Joe is a complete dick. He checks his wife’s phone and he fires people for stealing pens from the office. As is the case with such folk, eventually all suspicions are confirmed because the Joes of this world have forced their partners away with the constant controlling behaviour. That’s not something he’s going to take lying down, so he heads out to a motel on the outskirts of Philadelphia with a brick and a baseball bat to deliver some justice. But what are those frequent captions noting how many minutes it is until everyone dies?
They may be the creative team most likely to see their names misspelled, but in Breakneck Duane Swierczynski and Simone Guglielmini drag us on a journey that lives up to the title. It’s endearingly unconventional. In most crime stories of the ordinary person thrown into events beyond their control and having to live by their wits, the ordinary person is a lot more likeable than Joe, prompting greater concern as to their eventual fate. He doesn’t become any more pleasant when accompanied by an incapacitated security agent unable to avoid spilling truths, one of which is that Philadelphia is about to become tomorrow’s disaster headlines unless Joe can get his shit together and help out. It’s a brilliant set-up, and surprising to read in Swierczynski’s introduction that it failed to encourage a movie producer to bite, as it’s so cinematic, in practice a 120 page chase sequence with constant and occasionally hilarious complications. One of these is the bag of adult accessories carried by the agent’s partner.
He may never have set foot in Philadelphia, but Guglielmini recreates it well enough for anyone other than picky residents, and most importantly of all draws Breakneck as if all the ridiculous elements are matter of fact. It’s the sincerity that sells the entire story. A nice figurative style is employed throughout, the people identifiable and consistent, and the action scenes having a real energy.
It’s mentioned a few times, but because Joe is such a dick, Swierczynski’s skimmed it past us that he has a very useful talent, and it’s surely giving nothing away to reveal that when push comes to shove he’ll actually do the right thing. The unpredictable ride entertains all the way to the end, with the one flaw being the concentration on a relatively small group of characters to the exclusion of all else. The bigger picture isn’t laid out, and while suppositions can be made, not all the dots are connected. It could be considered excusable as the threat is just Swierczynski’s method of spurring what’s a wild ride, but it’ll annoy anyone expecting narrative neatness. Otherwise, dive straight in to a cracking read.