Trouble Walked In: Space Western Wrapped in a Hard-Boiled Detective Story

Mike Kupari's Trouble Walked In
March 29, 2024  
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Categories: Musings

If you liked the movie Outland or the series Firefly, then you’re likely a fan of the “Space Western” genre (aka Sci Fi Western). If you appreciate characters like Philip Marlowe or Max Hoover, then you probably enjoy a noir detective story. With Mike Kupari’s Trouble Walked In, you get a little bit of both.

I knew she was trouble the moment she walked in. Maybe it was the way she carried herself, striding in like she owned the place.

Mike Kupari’s Trouble Walked In doesn’t open with those lines, but they set the stage for the science fiction author’s latest extraterrestrial mystery adventure novel. “She” is Dagny Blake, a troubled femme-fatale searching for her missing sister, who disappeared while working for Ascension Planetary Holdings Group, the largest and most powerful corporation on the planet of New Columbia.

Fearing foul play, Dagny turns to private investigator Ezekiel “Easy” Novak for some discreet assistance. Without ruining the plot, let’s just say that Easy takes the job and soon finds himself enmeshed in corporate and government conspiracies that could impact every human being on New Columbia and even beyond.

Mike Kupari's Trouble Walked In is an excellent space western.


“Whether you want to call it a Space Western or a Sci Fi Western, Kupari’s Trouble Walked In fits the motif pretty durn well…pardner.” [Source: amazon.com]

Trouble Walked In successfully plays on familiar literary tropes like the jaded, distant, private eye who’s seen too much of mankind’s seedy underside. Nothing surprises Novak anymore. But he’s good at his job and the tough exterior hides a heart of gold. And he wears a hat, which instantly had me picturing him as Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. I even heard Bogie’s voice in my head when reading his dialogue. Speaking of dialogue, Easy talks the talk, too, calling people “kid” and referring to street punks as “mooks.”

Like several other of Kupari’s protagonists, Easy favors a powerful revolver for his sidearm, further hearkening back to the classic detective novels. None of them, however, carried a Sam Houston Mark-Four-pattern Combat Dragoon loaded with .44 caliber armor-piercing, high explosive slugs. Of course, they never had to put down an “amped-up cyborg,” either. A snub .38 just won’t cut it in that situation. Hand phasers and blasters are not part of Kupari’s sci-fi worlds, which usually serves to demonstrate the author’s wide knowledge of firearms.

Dagny Blake also fits the detective story stereotype of the attractive “dame” in need of the protagonist’s assistance. She dresses well and her looks inevitably turn heads, but she’s no dummy, nor is she a “damsel in distress.” Dagny proves her worth as the search for her sister unfolds, as Kupari’s female characters usually do. Ever the professional, Easy tries to compartmentalize his instant attraction to his sexy new client and do the job she pays him for. But the tension is there, as in all good stories of the genre.

As one might expect, the plot is full of unexpected turns and treacherous characters. Easy is forced to trust people and situations the reader finds questionable. It’s hard to discern who’s telling the truth and who might have ulterior motives. Kupari’s action sequences are good as anyone’s, and, like all good stories, the outcome is in doubt right to the end.

As a reader, I found the familiar tropes satisfying. It was like visiting an old friend, but the science fiction setting provided a fresh twist to Easy’s search for the truth. Kupari builds the story from a search for a missing woman to possibly the greatest scientific discovery in human history, along with the moral implications of that discovery. The story never feels stale, and the reader experiences the building menace as Easy closes in on the bad guys.

Trouble Walked In is another good seemingly standalone science fiction outing for Kupari. As always, the characters are engaging, and the plot moves along to a satisfying ending. The reader is kept guessing right up to the final revelations. The sci-fi aspect permeates the story but doesn’t overpower it. The characters drive the narrative, as they should.

humphrey bogart in The Maltese Falcon

“I pictured private eye Ezekiel “Easy” Novak as Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon…”
[Source: the culturetrip.com]

The story’s urban setting seemingly belies this review’s “space western” tag, and it wasn’t until I finished the book that I saw it that way. My Humphrey Bogart-like Ezekiel Novak could just as easily have been Randolph Scott helping the female lead find her missing family member while taking on a giant mining or railroad company.

In truth, Novak is often more like the honorable Western hero than the sometimes morally ambiguous film noir detectives of old. He has a clear sense of honor and knows right from wrong. It isn’t hard to picture him riding off into the sunset as opposed to disappearing into the shadowy, rain-slicked city streets.

karen steel in Ride Lonesome

“But Novak could just as easily have been Randolph Scott in Ride Lonesome. Come to think of it, Karen Steele (right) would make a pretty good Dagny Blake.” [Source: imdb.com]

And Dagny Blake, whom I earlier described as a detective story “femme fatale,” could just as easily be the lovely, yet tough Western heroine. Though the story is told from Novak’s point of view, Dagny is an indispensable character and instrumental to the plot’s ultimate outcome.

Despite the cityscape, Trouble Walked In has an undeniable frontier feel to it thanks to New Columbia’s space colony status and the fact that the planet is still undergoing Terraforming. In fact, Ascension Planetary Holdings Group is the monolithic corporation doing the Terraforming, occupying the role of our mining or railroad concerns. The company is inevitably wired into the planetary government, reminding us of numerous Western storylines.

New Columbia’s barren landscape outside the urban zones adds to this feeling. Kupari makes it quite clear that the planet is still on the forward edge of human-occupied space, with all the uncertainty such a position carries. The scientific discovery around which the plot revolves reinforces that feeling of the unknown. And, once again, Easy’s big revolver reminds us more of Western star Scott than Film Noir Bogie.

Mike Kupari's novels

“Check out Mike Kupari’s science fiction. You won’t be disappointed.” [Source: Mike Kupari on X]

All told, Trouble Walked In is a well-done piece of escapism. Kupari always delivers. This was the last, and not just the latest, of his books that I’ve read. Just like all the others, I was glued to the story, and I liked the ending, which I can’t always say about speculative fiction. If you like good, engaging novels with a sci-fi-Western vibe, check out Mike Kupari. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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Bucky Lawson

Bucky Lawson

About the Author

William "Bucky" Lawson has had a thing for military history since the sixth grade when he picked up a book about World War I fighter aces. Since then he has studied warriors from Ancient Greece to the modern day, with a special emphasis on World War II. He's a member of the Saber & Scroll Historical Society, the Historical Studies Honor Society, the Society for Military History, and Pi Gamma Mu (that's not an Asian stripper- it's the International Honor Society in Social Sciences). He has an unabashed love of the USA, military surplus bolt action rifles, AK-47s, and Walther handguns. He despises incabination and likes hamburgers, dogs, and cigars, but really who doesn't? Sissies and vegans, that's who. Bucky contributes to Strategy & Tactics Press, has a Masters Degree in Military History, and will probably proclaim himself an academic and wear one of those jackets with the patches on the elbows soon. Could be he'll run down a PhD, maybe he'll go hunting instead - Bucky likes the charred flesh of something that once had a parent, especially if he killed it himself. He is currently trying to figure out a way to export Texas politics to his native Virginia. Breach-Bang-Clear readers who talk to Bucky will be happy to know he's only half the redneck he sounds and really isn't inbred at all. Or not too much anyway, which is why he gets along so well with our other polrumptions. You can find historical bibliognost on Linkedin here.

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