Monday, March 28, 2011

Dark Jenny by Alex Bledsoe

I reviewed the second book in this series, Burn Me Deadly, a few months ago and really liked it. The series takes the hard-boiled detective genre and wraps it up in a fantasy world, a great combination.

In the dead of a bitter winter, sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse gets an ominous reminder of an old case: a coffin delivered during a snowstorm. The case was one of the strangest of Eddie's career, one that led to the downfall of an entire country.

The main story takes place in the past, framed by the arrival of the coffin in the present and Eddie's subsequent relating of the tale to everyone in the tavern where he's drinking. Ordinarily I hate that kind of structure, but it works here. I'm also not too fond of Arthurian tales, which this is, but Bledsoe has such a fresh take on it that I was smitten immediately.

At its heart, Dark Jenny is a murder mystery. Eddie was on another case when he witnessed a murder: a knight ate an apple intended for someone else, and died of poison. Eddie himself is suspected of the murder--but so is Queen Jennifer of Grand Bruan. Eddie wants to exonerate himself and get the hell out, but he also wants to find out the truth. While tracing the poisoner, he gets mixed up in royal mysteries, atrocities in the name of peace, and betrayal on both the personal and national scale.

The story is often violent but it doesn't feel particularly dark, thanks to the frequent black humor. There's also an added layer of enjoyment from recognizing how Bledsoe translates hard-boiled detective tropes and jargon into a fantasy setting. There's a lot of well-paced action too, tempered by some quieter moments.

Eddie is a flawed but honest character with a dark past; I was disappointed that his girlfriend Liz didn't have much of a part in the plot, since it mostly takes place before Eddie met her. But my only real complaint is the big ending where the murderer is revealed; it felt a little chaotic to me, probably because so many characters were present. Overall, though, the book is extremely good, with a tricky mystery and a fascinating setting.

A copy of this book was provided to Skunk Cat by the publisher or author for review.

B&N link

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