Jim Hopper is one of the greatest characters of the last decade. A swaggering, goofy beast of a man with deep pain. David Harbour broke out of character actor status with this part and it was a well earned launch. The character is just such a star part.
He’s a prime example of what makes a great character for a tie-in. He’s so well crafted you can drop him into any scenario and he’ll stay him. The limitation that of course he can’t get involved in sci-fi plots in a prequel? That can be accepted as long as he’s recognizably Jim Hopper. And that’s how one of the main characters of an Amblin love letter tv show finds himself in a grimy 70s New York murder mystery.
The book centers around Hopper investigating a series of murders in New York in 1977. It’s contrasted with his first Christmas with adopted daughter Eleven in a framing device but by and large this is a 70s pulp novel where Hopper goes undercover. Violence ensues and eventually a legendary moment in NYC history happens as a backdrop.
This is what we want from prequel novels but never get: A backstory worth exploring. Nothing here is all that shocking and doesn’t contradict the show but damn is it fun to experience a new side of Hopper. We see the character before he broke. We know from the show that his daughter’s death destroyed him. Here we see him as a badass brawler cop.
And seriously this is recognizably Hop. Adam Christopher gets the voice of the character down. He’s so funny, gruff yet likable, and deceptively brilliant. The thrill of this book is that it’s entirely his story. There are new characters including Hopper’s partner and they’re all solid but the book is about the guy on the cover and it’s just nice to be with him.
The book has a great style too. This isn’t the show. It’s a bit grittier, albeit written with the assumption the teen audience might find it. It’s snappier. Descriptions are blunt as a baseball bat but effective. This is pulp, nice juicy pulp and I dug it.
One thing I really want to praise is the framing story. It’s not just the beginning and the end. There is a healthy amount of the book that is Hopper dealing with Eleven and those sequences provide a fascinating contrast. We see a gentle, idyllic story next to a tale of murder. It’s weirdly moving.
It’ll be a while until we return to the world of Stranger Things. This and the earlier Suspicious Minds are first rate journeys until then.