The Butterfly House – by Katrine Engberg (Review)

Kørner & Werner #2

Mystery, Detective, Nordic Noir

Gallery/Scout Press; January 5, 2021

349 pages (ebook)
10hr 1m (audiobook)

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8 / 10 ✪

Beware minor spoilers for the Tenant by Katrine Engberg, Book #1 of the series.

My Review of the Tenant – by Katrine Engberg

An overworked and under-appreciated nurse in Copenhagen’s national hospital takes upon herself to rid the ward of a nuisance. An older patient overdoses on his heart medication and enters cardiac arrest, releasing him and everyone around him from his very vocal suffering. She slips out, stealthily, sure to close the door upon exit.

Six days earlier, a body was discovered in a fountain in central Copenhagen. The dead woman was naked and posed, with small and precise incisions marking her arms and nary a speck of blood to be found. Cause of death: exsanguination—not that it’s clear. From what the first on the scene can tell, the woman might as well have never had any blood at all.

Or there are vampires loose in Denmark.

Lead Investigator Jeppe Kørner arrives on the scene, albeit without his erstwhile partner, Anette Werner, now on pregnancy leave. And so it is up to Kørner to solve this himself. Which he must do with the entire attention of Copenhagen tracking his progress, as the cause and manner of death soon draw media attention.

While Jeppe is struggling with the press of a major case, Anette is struggling with a newborn she never asked for, never expected to have. Pregnancy leave is boring, it turns out, with nothing to do but assess and reassess how exactly this came to pass. She wants—needs—to do something, anything else. And so Werner throws herself into Jeppe’s new case, albeit with no backup, no departmental approval, and no way to tell her husband the truth of the matter. After all, who would believe that she is just avoiding the attentions of her newborn, and the relaxation having a baby demands?

But the case itself is no escape. Soon the pair uncover the greed and ambition that lurks beneath the surface of the shockingly lucrative practice of caregiving to mental health patients. And just what some will do for power, wealth, or status. And when a person decides to drain another of blood, it’s not likely to be a one-off. The first life is always the hardest to take, so the saying goes.

The dynamic duo return! If you’re not familiar with the Nordic languages, Werner and Kørner go quite well together, if not exactly rhyming. Feel free to look it up, or just take my word for it. While the Tenant focused on the issues the two had while working a case together, the Butterfly House instead focuses on the two working apart, each one tackling the case alone. Because of course Anette Werner can’t exactly tell her partner she’s investigating an open (and classified) police case rogue, and neither can Jeppe talk through his theories with her. And if the Tenant demonstrated just how well these two work together, this is indicative of how much worse they are apart. Not that that’s a spoiler; it’s common that in matters such as these, two heads are better than one. And Kørner and Werner, despite their faults—or perhaps because of them—work quite well together. So it’s very interesting to see how poorly they work on their own, apart.

In the last novel, Kørner was struggling through a particularly nasty divorce. And while he had his oldest and best friend helping him through it, it was more than enough to keep his body and mind functioning amidst the overwhelming heartache and depression. But it’s been a whole book since, and Jeppe is back on more solid ground. Back, but not fully healed. He is seeing someone—his colleague, Detective Sarah Saidani—but is it for casual sex, or is there something more? While not everyone may agree, I like the inclusion of a detective’s personal life in a mystery such as this. It helps paint them as human; with strengths and weaknesses that affect their professional lives the same as anyone else.

This mystery was about the same level of Nordic Noir as the last: that being… somewhat, but not overwhelmingly so. It still isn’t exactly sunny and warm, but also nowhere near the dark and oppressive atmosphere found in similar works by Ragnar Jónasson or Jo Nesbø. Additionally, the Butterfly House ties up all loose ends quite nicely—even the most obscure ones. I left the novel feeling a sense of fulfillment, with no lingering questions to answer.

Well, almost.

My two biggest problems with the text center around the inclusion of some characters while others are left out. Esther de Laurenti and her friend Gregor (the landlady and tenant from Book #1) are back—for some reason. I mean, they kinda relate to an offshoot of the overarching plot, but just at the end. For the most part, I found their inclusion baffling, and their chapters a meander from the otherwise greatly immersive main mystery. But with their inclusion, comes a bizarre absence. Johannes—Jeppe’s oldest and best friend, who helped him through the lowest lows of his divorce in Book #1—is gone. I mean, we still see quite a lot of Jeppe’s personal life, but there’s just one offhand mention of the man—nothing more.

There’s one other thing I wanted to address. One of my biggest issues with the Tenant was the division of the partnership. That being—while Kørner and Werner shared the headliner, it was Kørner who hogged the spotlight. I mentioned that I’d quite like to see this addressed in Book #2. And it was. Jeppe Kørner and Anette Werner much more equally share the spotlight. It’s great! And a pattern I hope will continue as we approach Book #3, the Harbour.

TL;DR

Where Anette Werner and Jeppe Kørner united in an unstoppable but entirely human combination in the Tenant, the two return in the Butterfly House to investigate the murder—separately. It’s quite the change of pace, albeit one that sees them more equally share the spotlight—both in their professional and personal lives. But while these highlight several rewarding alterations from the initial entry, there are a couple equally baffling choices. Especially the inclusion of two characters from the murders of Book #1, which have little to nothing to do with those in Book #2. Honestly I felt that their chapters detracted somewhat from the overall flow. But despite this, the story is quite good. And quite immersive. The crime and the detectives are on full display—not just in their investigation, but in their personal lives as well. It does a lot to cast them as human: with their own faults and insecurities, strengths and weaknesses. There’s also a open and ofttimes blunt discussion of mental health. Not only does the plot center on it, but so much of the detectives’ personal lives delve into it as well. From Kørner’s natural anxiety, and depression following his recent divorce; to Werner’s postpartum depression following her pregnancy; to the advantage taken on mental patients in the country’s caregiving programs—it addresses so much of what in my youth was swept under the rug and avoided. While I found this refreshing to bring to light, it was a bit uncomfortable for me as well. I’ve always had terrible anxiety but the overwhelming feeling when I was younger was that it was something best avoided in conversation, something that someone should deal with on their own and best hidden. Nowadays it is much more out in the open—which is great—but it still fills me with the same reluctance and discomfort whenever it’s addressed. Call it habit. Anyway, whether or not you find these things an issue, just be aware that they are front and center, central to the plot of the Butterfly House.

I’d definitely recommend this, and the rest of the series! Especially with the release of the Harbour—Book #3 of Kørner and Werner, out February 22, 2022.

Audio Note: Graeme Malcolm returns from his awesome performance in the Tenant, where he did an amazing job of bringing the Copenhagen crime world to life. I’m happy to report that the Butterfly House is a repeat performance, and I had no trouble drinking in his dulcet tones and immersing myself in the world while this Scandinavian thriller unfolded around me.

Battle Ground – by Jim Butcher (KK’s Review)

Dresden Files #17

Urban Fantasy

Ace; September 29, 2020

432 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

Beware spoilers for the Dresden Files up to date!

Recap

So many events have led to this moment. Destruction of the Red Court of vampires. Never-ending conflicts with Order of the Blackened Denarius. Winter Court. Summer Court. Za-Lords Guard. Friends and foes have now come together and Harry Dresden is now against a supernatural opponent like no other. A Titan! And to think this is just because everyone wanted to gather for some Peace Talks. 


Rambling Review (unspecific spoilers ahead)

I was extremely excited when it was announced that Peace Talks and Battle Ground would be released only months apart. And then I made the huge mistake of NOT READING Battle Ground immediately upon arrival. I’d even purposefully reread the entire series to prepare for Peace Talks because I had a feeling that these two books were leading to another major change in the Dresden universe. However, when I finally got to the book, I couldn’t remember anything from the previous one. Internal monologue: “So…who’re we fighting again? Right, right…big bad Titan. Okay. Wait, what happened to Thomas again? Oh yeah. Ok, I think I remember every-WAIT WHO IS THIS CHARACTER? Oh…yeah they’re from that book. And whatabouthatitem…???” And on and on and on….Books that focus heavily on battles are not my favorite. I have a hard time picturing how the characters move through a space and I’m more interested in what happens after the fight. I’m ashamed to admit I COMPLETELY MISSED Butters turning into (essentially) a Jedi in a previous Dresden because my brain was saying, “Fight, fight, punch punch…okay, what’s next?” And Battle Ground is essentially one massive fight. Sure, there are some mini side events and conversations that provide a brief respite from the battle, but it’s mostly fighting. And it’s not my favorite. And I probably missed something, again….Major character death in this book. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. The death happened, Harry reacted to it in the moment, but he had to deal with big baddy. At the end of the book, there were pages of Harry talking about the death with other characters. Perhaps I was caught up in the main battle to truly feel the impact of the character’s passing or maybe it was the way the character passed, but the end of the book was more emotional for me than the moment the character died….Bob is one of the best characters. More Bob, please. Let Bob stay with Harry!…  Mab’s deadline was unnecessary. It felt like a way to justify some character relationship in future books. Don’t force me to think about that when I’m still processing another major emotion. Again, unnecessary….The ending of the book was the best part. Some family reconciliation (FINALLY). A bit of mystery to tickle the brain. Harry takes back something that’s his. I like all of that. The whole story shouldn’t rely on a solid ending though. Perhaps on a reread I’ll find more enjoyment in the battle arc, but at this time I’m pleased enough with the book to know I’m still excited to continue with the series.


Reader Remarks

As previously noted, I’m a fast reader. I’ve always liked the Dresden books because the flow of conversation and pacing of the book always keeps me entertained. But, I will never get over completely missing Butters using the sword as a lightsaber. Greatest reader shame of my life.   

City of the Lost – by Kelley Armstrong

Rockton #1

Thriller, Mystery

Sphere; January 2, 2016
Macmillan Audio; May 3, 2016

471 pages (ebook)
13hr 41m (audiobook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

Enter Casey Duncan, typical homicide detective with a twist. She has a quiet life, with a job she loves, one true close friend, and a casual fling with an ex-con bartender. One that’s just begun to heat up. But there’s a problem, for Casey also has a secret—one that’s haunted her for years.

See, in college she dated a bad boy. Not just a bad boy, but a low-level dealer who just happened to be the grandson of a mafia boss. And when they fell out Casey ended up on her knees with a gun and her ex on his back with a bullet in his guts. But while she escaped justice for her crime, she could never quite shake the mob.

Jump forward to present day, when she finds her best friend, Diana, beaten bloody by her ex-husband. A common occurrence, but this time Diana claims she’s had enough, and has started talking about a rumor, a desperate long-shot escape plan—a town where survivors go to escape their abuse. And when the Italian mob resurfaces again and almost kills Casey, Diana is able to convince her to run, if they can. But when the long-shot turns out to be real, it may not be the safe-haven either of the two expects.

Welcome to Rockton, where the first rule is that you don’t talk about Rockton.

Not that you could. Located deep in the remote Yukon wilderness, the town has no cars, electricity, phones, or internet. Its only connection to the outside world is via bush-plane and is essentially invisible from the sky lost as it is in the taiga. The few hundred residents are all hiding from something; they never leave town, but why would they want to? They’re all paying an exorbitant amount of money to be there. They don’t want to be found. And they all want to keep it that way.

Casey is only there because the town needs a detective. And because they have a killer that needs found.

But that’s not even the only problem with Rockton. For in a town full of people that don’t want to be found, even the secrets they’ve aired may not be the darkest ones they’re hiding.

I’d heard good things about this series, but put it off for a while now due to lack of time, inclination, and cost. These are not cheap books. But when they came to my local library, it was hard to make any more excuses.

And the problem is… well, it’s that Rockton is certainly worth the time, trouble, and probably even the cost. It’s a great read. A thriller that thrills—gets your blood pumping and heart racing, makes you invested in the story and its characters. It’s even difficult for me to complain about anything. The story and setting are inherently plausible. Believable. These are things that could conceivably happen to people that could very well exist.

I loved the setting—as I’ve always been fascinated with the remote nature of the frozen north. Of the Alaskan-Yukon-Nunavut bush. Of the endless sea of taiga, only broken by tundra, where a man (or woman) can walk for weeks on end and never see another human. It’s not easy to hide a whole town. But a town off-the-grid, hidden amongst an endless forest, far enough away from people or cities or any flight-paths? I mean, that’s a bit easier. Rockton COULD actually exist. And it could be like this.

The characters are equally plausible. They can be a bit selfish, one-sided, vain, standoffish, honorable, stoic, or—well, anything else. Just like people are. The citizens of Rockton are complicated, but then, all humans are. While we meet some of the townsfolk, there are many more that we aren’t introduced to. And that’s neglecting the others. There are more people in this area of Yukon other than Rockton itself. There are those that left the town long ago when it was in its youth, grew old and raised their children outside. Some even filtered up from the south or east or west and joined the queue. These are called the Settlers. And then there are the others. The violent ones that eschewed society altogether. That are hostile to any ‘man they cross paths with. These are called the Hostiles. From these three groups are cobbled a more than decent cast, one with some turnover. So even as the series rolls into its seventh installment, there will still be new characters to meet and endless problems to confront.

I have slight issues with the romance. it’s just that when it all takes off the overarching plot is put on hold while the romance takes center stage. Casey and her lover gaze into each other’s eyes and fall into one another’s arms like there’s nothing more important in the world. …while a killer stalks around unrestrained. It’s got the hot-and-heavy, zero-to-sixty vibe down, but doesn’t quite take on the heart-pounding, pulse-racing, thrill-ride of the rest of the story.

The only other issue I have is with the description of the place. Well, not exactly how it’s described, but more the details within the details. It’s clear the author has done their research. The Yukon is all rendered about as I’d expect, but all my experience with it is secondhand. It’s described beautifully—except. Winters in the Yukon are cold. Like, really damn cold. Summers generally fall down to freezing daily, maybe 10-11 months of the year. This isn’t exactly conveyed well. The wildlife is also a bit… off. Their descriptions aren’t wrong exactly, just… incomplete. It’s not really something I can complain about too much without sounding silly or pretentious. Sufficient to say that if you have any in-depth, firsthand experience with either the setting or the wildlife, things will seem a tad incorrect. But then that’s the case with any book. It’s hard to have firsthand experience with absolutely everything. And so I really shouldn’t complain about everything not being completely perfect.

So I won’t. (I mean, I already did, but I’m done now. Also, it’s not anything that’ll affect my rating).

Note: The audio edition was a quite enjoyable listen/read, as Thérèse Plummer did a fabulous job of bringing Casey Duncan and Rockton around her to life! I’d definitely recommend giving the book a try, but if you’d rather not or already have in another format, I’d still recommend you considering something else Thérèse Plummer has done should you ever be on the fence on a book she’s read (which shouldn’t prove too difficult as she’s narrated hundreds of titles already).

TL;DR

The town of Rockton is the very plausible town of refugees from violence located in the Yukon bush. It’s a detailed, remote, and beautiful setting following a thrilling, intense, and immersive story that grabs and holds your attention to the very end. It also delivers in future installments (though they don’t quite live up to the absurd expectations set by this first one). There’s very little to complain about—the most glaring issue being price. As of writing this, the ebook version was $13 and it was very difficult to find any style, any age copy less than that. But it’s probably worth it. Or you could look at your local library, like I did. Either way, City of the Lost is a must-read, and Casey Duncan is the type of character you’ll expect and hope to see more in the future—the resident of a town the doesn’t exist.

The Subjugate – by Amanda Bridgeman (Review)

Salvi Brentt #1

Detective, Mystery, Cyberpunk

Angry Robot; November 6, 2018

398 pages (PB)

3.8 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot (#AngryRobot) for the book! All opinions are my own.

A hardboiled detective novel with elements of cyberpunk, the Subjugate is an interesting tale of purity married with violence, crossed through with the themes of faith, deceit and redemption. It’s quite a good mystery; the crux of which hinges on the detectives’ own ability to separate the past from the present, especially when it comes to rehabilitated criminals and their supposed “redemption”.

A murder rocks the deeply religious town of Bountiful, one of their brightest young souls, Sharon Gleamer, raped and beaten before being killed and carved up. The community is beside themselves, but disbelieving that any of their number could commit such an atrocity. Instead, they point the finger at the nearby Solme Complex, a revolutionary prison where the inmates are conditioned with injections and experimental neural technology to remove their violent tendencies. And while the complex has seen nothing but success, this murder casts doubt on them. For could the town of Bountiful harbor dark secrets of its own, or are the subjugates at the Solme Complex not as reformed as they would have the world believe?

Enter Salvi Brentt, Bay Area detective. When she and her new partner, Mitch Grenville, are assigned the murder, their focus quickly lands on the subjugates at the Solme Complex. While the Complex vaunts its tech as the reason the inmates have been reformed, the detectives are not so sure. Years prior in 2040, an event known only as “the Crash” destabilized the world’s economy and nearly sent humans to war not amongst themselves, but with their very minds. Neural enhancements—technology implanted into people’s minds—were at the very heart of the trouble, but the text is very vague about the specifics. Ever since, humanity has taken a step away from neural tech—all except those at the Solme Complex. Their Halos (silver discs worn about the head) are used to slowly transform the Subjugates into Serenes. As the obvious first step, the detectives investigate the Complex, but here their investigation falters.

For not only do the inmates at the Complex seem reformed, they seem like different men entirely than those they were before. Violent and sexual offenders all, now they appear timid, demure, and serene. But appearances can be deceiving, and the past is often difficult to overcome—something Salvi knows better than most. Even as Mitch scours the Complex, Salvi herself begins to focus on the townsfolk themselves. For it wouldn’t be the first time that the heart of religion had become blackened with sin.

But as the murders escalate, the detective remain divided, quickly exposing their deepest secrets and blurring the lines between friend and foe, between purity and sin. The question remains: who committed these atrocities? And will Salvi be able to stop them while the body count is still low, or will the detectives become the next victims?

I said that I’d class this as detective fiction with cyberpunk elements, instead of a cyberpunk detective novel. The main reason for this is the world-building. Or the lack thereof. It’s not that there isn’t any—but other than the occasional visit from the police AI Riverton, or the infrequent use of other advanced tech (like the detective’s holo badges), there isn’t much mentioned. As I said before, references to the Crash are vague at best, mentioning something about neural augmentations but providing little detail. In fact, the Solme Complex seems to boast the bulk of the enhancements: and it’s really only the Halos. I would’ve liked to have seen more about the Crash, or more about the advanced technology of the world—but it just never comes up.

The mystery itself is more enjoyable. Very complex and unique. Until maybe the last quarter I had no idea who done it, and even then my guess was tentative at best. Though I ended up being right, it felt more a vindication than a disappointment when the killer(s) were revealed.

The themes of the Subjugate were more mixed. And there was no shortage of them. Though I enjoyed the battle between history and redemption, the anti-religious sentiment within got tiresome quickly. Additionally, there were more than a few absolutely cliché detective…—uh, blanking on the term—tropes? Motifs? Whatevers later on, none of which I can talk about without spoilers.

TL;DR

With a grisly murder and an unknown killer on the loose, the Subjugate starts off with a bang and rarely slows down afterwards. Right up to the end I was divided on who the killer(s) were, and absolutely enjoyed my journey there. All in all I’d recommend The Subjugate, but not without a few small caveats. One is that while the story includes cyberpunk and transhumanist elements, it is not inherently either. It’s a detective mystery-thriller first, science fiction second (not that that’s a deal-breaker, it’s just important to note). The second is that while the resolution is enjoyable, the wrap-up is entirely cliché. I was in equal parts thrilled and disgusted by the ending, but that’s just me. I look forward to how the second entry, the Sensation, handles the world, the detectives, and the story the author has built thus far.

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill – by Sophie Hannah (Review)

The New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #4

Mystery, Historical Fiction

HarperCollins; August 20, 2020 (UK)
William Morrow; September 15, 2020 (US)

346 pages (ebook)
8 hr 54 min (audio)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to HarperCollins, Willam Morrow and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

It is 1930. Hercule Poirot is traveling by coach to the illustrious Kingfisher Hill Estates when he uncovers a murderer. Prior to the tale’s start, Richard Devonport had written the famous detective and requested he come to the Estates to investigate the murder of his brother, Frank. A year previous, Frank had fallen to his death within the Devonport’s house of Little Key. The incident was ruled a murder, with Richard’s fiancée Helen as the prime suspect. Helen has been arrested and is awaiting hanging, as the authorities are convinced of her guilt. But Richard is not as convinced.

But on the coach to Kingfisher Hill, Poirot uncovers yet another mystery. A woman is convinced that she will be murdered if she sits in a certain seat. To allay her fears, the detective switches seats with her. Putting him next to a woman that later confides in him that she herself has committed a murder. But when the woman disembarks before he does, will Poirot be able to find her again? And how can he solve a murder that he knows all of the details of, yet none of them names for?

This is all before reaching Kingfisher Hill Estates, where another murder mystery awaits. One that may be connected to the hysterical woman, may be connected to the self-confessed murderer, or may be an entirely separate mystery entirely. All that is certain is that Poirot and his associate Catchpool are in for a difficult week, one that they’ll never forget.

First off, Hercule Poirot doesn’t ride in coaches. That’s a thing—look it up.

As a fan of Agatha Christie’s original Hercule Poirot, when Sophie Hannah originally revived the series, I was somewhat dubious. But as we approach the fourth book in the renewed series, I figured it was time to give it a try. By book four, Hannah has had time to fine tune her portrayal of the Belgian detective. And she does a pretty decent job of it. But as I’ve mentioned previously, there are exceptions to this.

All in all, I actually found the book enjoyable, though it took me a bit to warm up to it. This is helped quite considerably by the narrator—Julian Rhind-Tutt—who did such an incredible job as Poirot, that I had to double-check that David Suchet wasn’t actually involved. While I had issues with the depiction of Poirot himself, the mystery is really quite a good one; enjoyable, challenging, interesting, full of twists and turns. As a mystery, I’d say it’s probably a 4+ star read. As a continuation of Agatha Christie’s classic detective however—it leaves a little to be desired.

As Hastings occasionally was before him, Edward Catchpool acts as a friend and narrator for the brilliant detective—one that, while he infrequently picks up on Poirot’s hunches, is most often in the dark. It took me quite a bit of time to warm up to Catchpool enough that I didn’t find him simply exhausting. He’s a bit of a dry narrator. I mean, Hastings wasn’t exactly colorful and interesting. He was English. Old Empire English. But Catchpool seems to be a bit more of a bore, in addition to being even slower on the draw. He is frequently behind Poirot in even the most obvious of deductions, though every now and then he has his moment. It’s done this way for a reason—to make Poirot seem more impressive and amazing. But while Hastings was a captain in the British Army, he was no detective. Edward Catchpool is supposedly an Inspector of Scotland Yard, so he really should be less hopeless.

Poirot just feels different. It’s mostly little things; the bit about the coach, the perhaps inflated sense of superiority. He doesn’t mention any bit of his history beyond that of Hannah’s last novel. There’s actually little I can pinpoint exactly. Poirot seems nearly (nearly!) normal. His ego, his methods, his attention to detail, his cleanliness are all on point. Combined with Cacthpool’s dry witticisms, it’s almost like the old Poirot is back. It’s like running into an old friend, but their recollection of history is different and some of their mannerisms are wrong. But they look the same, they talk the same, and more than anything it’s good enough to have them back that you don’t want to look too closely lest you be disappointed.

TL;DR

Like an old friend you haven’t seen in years, Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot looks like you remembered, sounds like you remembered, and is more than anything a sight for sore eyes. Provided you don’t look too closely. Otherwise you’ll unearth a slightly stranger looking Poirot—one that shares much in common with his predecessor, but is subtly different. Nothing too overt here, but his mannerisms, his inflated sense of ego, his peculiarities, his knowledge of and regard for his own history—are all off. If you take the mystery as it is, it will seem an interesting, twisting, and often exciting distraction from the world. But should you look too close, you may just find a doppelgänger masquerading as an old friend. Someone that has nearly fooled you once, but won’t again.

Two Bits: Slab City Blues – by Anthony Ryan

Slab City Blues #1

Scifi, Cyberpunk, Mystery, Novella

Smashwords; April 1, 2011

35 pages (ebook)

1.9 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

An early work of Anthony Ryan—I believe his first published works—are the Slab City Blues. I got an omnibus edition from the author himself; it’s taken a while for me to get around to them. However much I tend to hate on everything that isn’t Blood Song—it all could be much, much worse. But then, this is an early work. Remember that.

Welcome to the Slab, a back alley of a station where the rats and trash piles grow big but the people only get older and uglier. There’s a stranger in town, but why he’d want to visit doesn’t make sense. No one visits the Slab. But this stranger is here for a reason. He’s killing assassins, with tooth and claw.

It’s up to Inspector Alex McLeod to find him. Detective, war vet and reluctant widower. 2,199 murders in the Slab a year and only 5% go to him. If only it was so easy to let his wife go. But she’s still around, which is impressive, her being dead and all. Maybe he’ll finally be strong enough to let her go. Or maybe not. Thing is, Alex’s no saint, and he can’t do everything.

It reads like a Richard K. Morgan story, where the reader is thrown in the deep end—no explanations, no hand-holding—just the story and the action and the slang and lingo and they have to piece everything together themselves. Well, for the most part Morgan pulls it off, but Ryan fails to. Why? Possibly because his intro to the world is under a hundred pages. Like, way under. I was only just wrapping my head around everything when it ended. And it ended suddenly.

As stories go, Slab City Blues #1 wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t very good. Again, this had a lot to do with the length. Built around a hard-boiled, ex-mercenary, current detective that gets results but plays by his own rules—well, you see where this is going. Action heavy. I mean, the lead does his detective thing, a little, but it’s mostly about the action. Which is a shame. I would’ve liked to see a little more effort go into everything. The story is straightfoward: Point A to Point B, with very little in-between. And very little recap necessary. I guess that’s why half a page after we stumble onto the truth, the book ends.

I couldn’t get around to caring about the main’s relationship with his wife. She’s been dead for years and currently inhabits a simulation, which essentially is stealing her from death. For now. It’s not well explained, only that they’re fighting about it. And have been for a long time. Again, maybe if the story was longer, but whatever. I really think the author should’ve left it out, but I suppose he wanted to try to humanize his lead. But it doesn’t work. Especially since his lead isn’t human. This is just touched on briefly and then abandoned. Which, is frustrating.

Oh, and some of the language is… outdated? Like, some people are called straight “oriental” and other places where it’s “two Chinese were” doing something and… I dunno. It really could’ve been cleaned up.

TL;DR

Heavy on lingo, short on conclusions. Okay, okay, I guess we technically concluded the story. Then skipped through the bit where we tie everything together nicely and shot right to the emotional conclusion of the character’s arc. Which we did in a couple sentences. It was… it was almost as if the author ran out of time. Or couldn’t be bothered. Because who really runs out of time on a thirty page story? Especially when he took so much time setting the world up. Doesn’t take too long to read, though I’m not saying that’s a good thing. The best that I can say about Slab City Blues #1 is it’s not… horrible. It’s just not good. My copy was free, so I didn’t lose much by reading this. You can buy the first one for a buck, but I wouldn’t. Dunno whether it’s worthwhile to buy the collection, but I’ll update you after I read #2 (A Song for Madame Choi) and maybe 3. Til then, I guess.