He doesn’t wear a trenchcoat or a fedora, but he’s a P.I. just the same. Garrett, the star of 13 novels by fantasy author Glen Cook, is one of my favorite series characters. Garret is an ex-Marine and street tough who runs an investigative business in the city of TunFaire, a fantastic hardboiled town loosely based on St. Louis. It’s got elves, dwarves, grolls – giant-troll hybrids – wizards and undead, and it’s all tied up in a Chandleresque worldview that meets Nero Wolfe’s structure. See, Garrett works for the Dead Man, a long-dead lich-like creature who can read and manipulate minds, when he’s interested. Often the mysteries tie up with an “I bet you’re wondering why I’ve gathered you here,” moment, but other times it’s a bloody battle with backstreet thugs, rampaging gods, and evil sorcerers.
Cook keeps you on your toes. I’ve enjoyed all the novels, though I felt Angry Lead Skies was a rather strange departure that dipped deep into fan service. I’d highly recommend beginning at the beginning, because he builds a rich world reminiscent of post-Vietnam America in many ways. I’d bet green money that Mr. Cook is a big fan of James Crumley, with how Garrett sits around drinking with his war buddies and wonders what the hell they did with their lives. The favorites of mine that stick out are Red Iron Nights, a supernatural serial killer tale; Faded Steel Heat, which ties up TunFaire’s underworld in a brutal tale reminiscent of Paul Cain; and Petty Pewter Gods, which brings a lost pantheon of bizarre deities gunning for new believers.
If you’ve read Glen Cook’s excellent, gritty fantasy series The Black Company, you know is talented at building a believable world. He has a lot more leeway here with his humor, but still writes solid crime fiction with a strong emotional foundation. The evil that men do leaves ugly scars, and he does not shy from it, or make light of it. The novels have enough lightheartedness to appeal to P.G. Wodehouse fans, but dip deep into the grit to keep the hardboiled half of me happy. They’re somewhat unique, and will appeal to both fantasy and crime fiction fans.
© 2012 Thomas Pluck