Friday, 1 April 2011

‘Dark Jenny’ – Alex Bledsoe (Tor)

These days, I wouldn’t say that there is any one author writing for whom I would drop everything and start reading their latest book. The simple fact is that I’m holding far too much stuff to drop it all at once, it would hurt... There are authors though where I will definitely find the time to read a new book of theirs. It may take me a little time to get round to it but they are on my radar and their books will be read sooner or later; Alex Bledsoe is very firmly on that list. Whether it’s his vampire tales set in the nineteen seventies or the tales of ‘sword jockey’ Eddie LaCrosse, I know that I’m in for an entertaining time with a story that will bet me thinking as well. If you haven’t read these books yet then I think you really should. (You’ve probably guessed by this point that I’m a fan so you might want to take that into account when we get onto the review itself...)
It took slightly longer than I would have wanted but I finally got round to cracking open my copy of ‘Dark Jenny’ a couple of days ago. It took a while to really get going for me but once it did there was no way I could put it down until I’d finished...

Eddie LaCrosse is whiling away the colder parts of winter drinking in his favourite tavern... until a coffin is delivered to him in the dead of night and forces him to take a reluctant look back into his past. The island kingdom of Grand Bruan is ruled over by Marcus Drake, a King who has spared no small effort to make sure that his realm embodies all that is fair and just in a world that is anything but. Someone wants to change all of this and not for the better. Queen Jennifer is not only accused of adultery but murder as well and Eddie has the misfortune to be there when the deed itself happens...

Eddie has a very good reason for solving this crime; he has been accused of committing the murder. As the case plays out though, Eddie finds more and more reasons to stick around. Grand Bruan is anything but the peaceful nation it appears to be. This kingdom is built on lies and Eddie must unravel every single one of them if he is to save not only his own skin but also stop an entire kingdom from collapsing into chaos...

An issue that I’ve had with the last two ‘Eddie La Crosse’ books is that Alex Bledsoe comes across as wearing his influences a little too heavily on his sleeve. The ‘hard bitten detective’ angle is cool, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that a couple of times I found myself wondering whether I was reading a detective novel or a fantasy novel; the line perhaps needed to be blurred a little more.

It’s the same kind of deal in ‘Dark Jenny’ although the ‘detective’ side of things blends much better with the rest of the plot this time round. What I’m talking about now is the ‘King Arthur’ influence that the book is based around. Bledsoe’s spin on this myth took a while to get going and really find its place in Eddie’s tale. Until it did, what I found was a story where this spin on an established tale was at odds with the tale it was meant to be supporting. In these early stages, ‘Dark Jenny’ is ‘too King Arthur’ to be its own story but ‘not King Arthur enough’ to be a King Arthur tale in its own right. It’s all a bit confusing and an obstacle to enjoying the book on its own terms.

Stick with it though. I did and found that not only does this issue smooth itself out but Bledsoe more than delivers in the areas that have made the last two ‘Eddie LaCrosse’ novels such entertaining reads.

The mystery itself appears deceptively simple to begin with. A man has died and all Eddie has to do is find out who is behind the crime. Simple, isn’t it?

Things turn out to be far from simple as Bledsoe gradually reveals more questions for Eddie to answer in such a way that I didn’t even notice the pages turning. It’s all done very smoothly with an injection of action at just the right times to give proceedings some fresh impetus. Surprises at certain moments also provide the same result (in terms of moving the plot along) and turn things on their head when you’re least expecting it. I enjoyed these action scenes in particular as we get to see that Eddie is more than capable of backing up his tough guy talk with a bit of muscle.

Everything fits together nicely at the very end and you don’t just get a picture of the crime and why it was carried out. Bledsoe also provides us with a compelling picture of the hidden depths of court life in the ‘perfect kingdom’ and had me wondering whether the end result was really worth all the lies it took to build things up.

The last two books have given us glimpses of Eddie’s past and offered clues as to why he is the man he is today. ‘Dark Jenny’ gives us far more than just a glimpse of this past and really lets us know just why he can be a little world weary and cynical in the present day. I don’t want to give too much away but I had to feel a little sorry for Eddie after everything Bledsoe threw in his path. All of this serves to show just how strong a character Eddie is and just what it will take for him to snap; when he does snap you know there’s a damn good reason for it and the impact of these scenes is all the more powerful for it.

Bledsoe has built Eddie’s character up gradually over the first two books and with ‘Dark Jenny’ Eddie has finally become more than just a collection of ‘private eye mannerisms and wisecracks’. He’s a fully rounded and fleshed out character whom it’s a pleasure to spend time with.
‘Dark Jenny’ is a tough one to get into at first but I was glad I stuck with it (even though there was never any question of that not happening). If you’re already a fan then you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. If you haven’t picked up these books up yet, do yourself a big favour and get on it right now.
Nine and a Quarter out of Ten


M.S. Watson said...

Looks really interesting.

~*¨`*.~*¨*.¸¸.~*¨`*. said...

I read the sample chapter and was really disappointed with the writing. It seemed very stilted and almost amateurish-- until I read this review I'd been giving the author the benefit of the doubt and assuming that this was his first book published-- or maybe even that it was self published. (No offense to those who self publish and use good editors, but what I read of this book did not feel edited at all.) This was so distracting, along with the really odd genre bending mentioned in this review, that I probably won't pick this one up. Maybe I'll see if I can get the first 2 from the library, though.