Keeper – Greg Rucka

4 out of 5

I had forgotten about this Greg Rucka – the version that had me addicted to his writing; to scrabbling for new books as soon as they were released. “Books” is maybe a key word there – while the writer has put out a Star Wars novella in recent past, mostly he’s shifted over to comics, where he’s been produced some fantastic material… that I’ve unfortunately accepted may not be up my alley. Politics and world-building were always a part of Greg’s work, but it’s gotten more complex over the years, and prior to realizing I was less looking forward to sifting through lore than I was enjoying the comics, I had also kind of fallen out of reading his Marvel or DC works, though that’s true for a lot of writers – I tend not to like the stuff they write for the majors. So once a collect-’em-all Rucka reader, now whittled down to occasional glances at new titles.

But that fervor, which was borne admittedly from his earlier, DC comics stuff – Wonder Woman, Gotham Central – gained full steam when I read his first book, Keeper.

Keeper turned out to be the start of the Atticus Kodiak series – a bodyguard-for-hire who, over the course of the run, becomes much more than that. You can’t really tell that in this first book, of course, but the roots are there: a willingness to push things in a way that shakes them up such that the character can’t just pop up in book 2 and start over on a new case, and there’s the writer’s attention to scene detail – always making it clear where everyone is in a particular space, and calling out the little moves that personify them, without halting the pace or rhythm of the moment.

When I first read Keeper, I recall feeling like it pushed a little hard on something topical – abortion – but on this reread, a couple decades later, I actually found it to be not only really tasteful, but pretty timeless (for better or worse…) in its approach to the subject matter. Atticus is tasked with protecting a doctor who’s going to be speaking in a very public forum for pro-choice, and Greg certainly doesn’t hide from speaking through Atticus a bit in his support for that stance, but it’s not at all patronizing when doing so, especially because a focus of the forum is to find compromise in hearing from opinions on all side of the matter – and to that extent, we get some characters coming from an anti-abortion perspective who are able to come across as reasonable, logical human beings. The chosen bogeyman are the extremists – those inciting riots outside of the clinic at which the doctor works, and leading to a series of escalating threats (and eventual actual violence) as things go on.

Carefully toeing a line so as not to get manipulative with the subject matter, Greg nonetheless absolutely goes for the gut with how things ramp up, and he does so in a way that pushes Kodiak outside of a zone of being a clear cut good guy, putting us in an absorbingly tense position of wanting Kodiak to kick ass and take names, but also to stay in control, and to “win,” as the definition of that becomes more grey.

Greg has some indulgences in his writing, of course, and that comes across in some cheeky dream sequences here, and there’s kind of an inevitable feeling of going-through-the-paces to get to a conclusion after the forum has ended, but he keeps the former stuff pretty tamped down, and the latter still has a couple gut-punches left so you close the cover, desperately needing to reach for the next book in the series.