The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky
Welcome To Low Town
Here, the criminal is king. The streets are filled with the screeching of fish hags, the cries of swindled merchants, the inviting murmurs of working girls. Here, people can disappear, and the lacklustre efforts of the guard ensure they are never found.
Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer; now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his.
Bu then a missing child, murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley.
And then another.
With a mind as sharp as a blade and an old but powerful friend in the city, he’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer.
If the killer doesn’t find him first.
Those of you who have been following The Eloquent Page for a while may remember that The Straight Razor Cure was on my list of books I was looking forward to reading in 2011. This week, I finally managed to get my hands on a copy and was able to see if it was a worthy inclusion on that list or not.
Over the last couple of years, there has been a growing trend in what I guess you would call low fantasy. These are novels that aren’t overly interested in the antics of kings, or the fate of nations, quite the opposite in fact as they focus primarily on ordinary people. Joe Abercrombie’s work springs to mind. The Straight Razor Cure is written in a similar vein.
Low Town has suffered through many terrible situations. From wars, where large portions of the population were killed, to plagues where bodies ended up rotting in the streets. Though times have been tough, the townsfolk just about managed to get by. Suddenly, a killer is stalking their children and many fear the return of the bad times.
When it comes to the denizens of Low Town, nobody is ever quite what they seem. The main protagonist, Warden is a perfect example of this. Down on his luck and no longer a member of military, his character flies in the face of your conventional fantasy hero. Warden is an ugly man, has violent tendencies and is a drug addict to boot. Not exactly the qualities you would you would expect in a leading man. Why then, did I find myself warming to him? Warden could have so easily been a one dimensional bully-boy, but when you read his interactions with those he cares about, you get glimpses of the man he once was prior to his fall from grace. This is a man that has seen (and probably done) horrible things in the past. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but at his core he retains a level of humanity that few of the other characters in the novel display.
The majority of magic and mystical elements that are used in the book are very low key, and this works well within the confines of the story. With a couple of notable exceptions, that are necessary for the plot to move forward, there is nothing that is too in your face. I like this toned down approach, as it gave the entire novel a much more realistic feel.
I enjoyed the way Polansky’s writing shifted my suspicions from one character/potential killer, to the next. There were plenty of sufficiently blind alleys and red herrings that kept me on my toes.
Overall, Daniel Polansky’s debut novel has been one of my favourite novels of this genre, so far this year. The blend of detective noir and fantasy seems like a good fit. This is a first class murder mystery with an eclectic cast of immoral characters, most of whom inhabit the sleazier side of humanity. They aren’t a pleasant bunch but this does make it all the more interesting to read. The wintry streets of Low Town were great fun to visit and I hope I get the opportunity to read more of Warden’s exploits in the future.
If you enjoy your fantasy dark and gritty then this could well be the novel for you. The Straight Razor Cure is available now.