Our friend Colleen Mondor at Bookslut has posted a fantastic review of Max Frei's The Stranger: Max Frei’s The Stranger is an international bestseller that took Russia by storm. Mad curiosity over what literary sensation the Russians love was enough to make me want to read this book. Apparently the Russians like fantasy -- really well written fantasy -- and The Stranger is a great blend of that genre and hardboiled mystery with some thrills and It’s a Mad Mad Mad World fish out of water comedy thrown in. It’s an utterly original title that any fan of the surreal (adult or teen) will enjoy.
Max Frei, the same as the author, is a “twenty-something loser” who is drifting through life with nothing exceptional to share other than odd sleeping patters. At night he is a chronic insomniac while during the day sleep comes with ease. He remembers his dreams with deep clarity and many times finds himself in a world with an old world European sensibility where he enjoys wonderful meals at a certain sidewalk café and chats with a man named Sir Juffin. As the book opens Max discovers that he can travel to this parallel world, and live in the “City of Echo.” Sir Juffin makes him a member of the Department of Absolute Order, a group of secret agents tasked with solving magical crimes. It is here that Max’s nocturnal habits are much needed and he finds himself battling all manner of demonic creatures and wizards gone bad along with the rest of the department. Max makes friends, proves capable of great bravery and even become Death after a mix-up with some major magic. While all of the mysteries are serious (even the one with magically animated evil dolls ala Chucky), Frei’s humor comes through with every word. Readers will find themselves enjoying Max’s adventures without ever fearing for him or the denizens of Echo. There are fatalities but also romance (secret agent style) and the surprising domestication of cats and swimming in multiple bathtubs. Frei excels at his world building and brings Echo alive in the best combination of 19th century Austria and futuristic steampunk delights. Frei has a series of books set in Echo and hopefully there will be more of Max’s adventures to come for English readers. This is irresistible reading. He’s smart, savvy and funny; an everyman hero we can all believe in."