This is a straightforward mystery novel, as in private eye rather than the mysteries that I normally write about. So...no supernatural elements, no magic. But still a good story, I hope. It's something I wrote in 1985, but didn't try too hard to market since I was already too busy with my career as a fantasist to try to establish myself in a different genre. But while mythic fiction swallows up all of my writing time, and happily so, I still retain a soft spot for the mystery novel, and aspects of it have crept into more than one of my books. As I write in the introduction:|
I've flirted with variations on the mystery form in other books. Mulengro, Angel of Darkness and From a Whisper to a Scream (the latter two first published under the pen name of Samuel M. Key) were all, at their heart, police procedurals, sparked mostly, I'd guess, from years of reading Ed McBain. I'd also touched on spy thrillers (the RCMP sections of Moonheart), tropes such as organized crime (the Mafia in Greenmantle), and various hardboiled characters who've shown up in the pages of various novels and stories.
But this was the first time that I sat down to deliberately write a mystery novel, with a PI as a lead character, and no fantasy elements whatsoever, hedging my bets only slightly by giving Jevon "Jake" Swann a love for Celtic music. (It doesn't matter where you put Celtic music; it always holds a touch of magic to it.) And then I set the story in Ottawa, because that's where I was living at the time and I liked having my characters walk around in the same neighbourhoods that I did, or could.
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There's no magic. There are no characters abroad in our realm from the Faerielands. There are no shapeshifters, animal spirits or living computers. But The Road to Lisdoonvarna, a recently released rewrite of an unpublished novel first written in the mid-1980s, is instantly engrossing all the same.
Lisdoonvarna is not one of Charles de Lint's wildly popular mythic fantasies, nor is the tale set in Newford, the author's fictional, magic-filled city. De Lint is back to his old stomping grounds, Ottawa, for a straightforward mystery novel; it was, he says in his introduction, something of an experiment to see if he could switch genres and still write a good book.
This publication should settle that question once and for all. Lisdoonvarna is a solid tale, brimming with strong characters and an action-filled plot which will keep you turning those pages to the all-too-soon conclusion.
This is by no stretch a whodunnit - the primary villain, at least, is identified fairly early in the plot, although the involvement of others remains a question 'til the end. But the action, to say nothing of the excellent character development, is certainly sufficient to keep this book exciting.
Jake Swann is a private investigator, heavy-handed but soft-hearted. His case seems simple enough: find a teen-age runaway who fled Toronto to disappear into Ottawa's small but flourishing punk scene. But then Jake's good friend Sammy Ward, a cheerful young Irish fiddler, is brutally raped and beaten, and it looks like the police are involved - including, perhaps, the one man on the force Jake thought he could trust. Of course, the missing person and the criminal cops may be related, and someone with a lot of hired muscle is taking a dim view of Jake's investigations. Fortunately, Jake has Jimmy Crackle and Bo Jeffries on his side, and it's hard to imagine a more loyal pair of friends to cover your back and get the job done.
Named for a popular Irish jig and referencing a major music festival held each year in the village in County Clare, the book proves de Lint's ability to switch genres and still tell a good tale. He never loses his voice in this book, so I never forgot whose words I was reading - and yet, oddly, I never really missed the touches of magic so common in de Lint's stories, so engrossing is the plot and so intriguing are the characters. While I hope de Lint never abandons his magical world entirely, I would certainly enjoy reading more from him in this vein, as well as the horror genre he touched on so briefly in his trilogy of Samuel M. Key novels and a few early books such as Mulengro.
Green Man Review:
Despite the name on the title page, this book does not read anything like a Charles de Lint novel. Sure, the usual suspects are all here: Celtic music, unsavory characters with hearts of gold, exploited teens and homeless people haunting the fringes of society. There is no magic, however, or at least no outright mythic or supernatural elements. Even so, all the ingredients are here for another intimate de Lint tale of societal outcasts finding the strength in each other to overcome the trials the cold, cruel world throws at them.
The premise is simple enough. Ottawa private investigator Jevon "Jake" Swann accepts a case from a distraught Toronto father who's desperate to find his runaway teenage daughter. Reluctantly, Jake delves into the Ottawa runaway scene of wannabe-punkers and the cheap sex and drugs that comes with it, and quickly learns that the missing teen may not be quite the innocent her father believes she is. Then, to complicate matters significantly, Jake's fiddle-playing best friend and potential amour, Sammy Ward, is savagely beaten and raped. That the shattered Sammy insists her attacker was a cop, well, that's just the way Jake's luck seems to be going these days. That's just the kind of setup de Lint excels at, having tackled similar themes and dangers in the pages of Angel of Darkness and Greenmantle.
Lisdoonvarna is an exciting read, and a fast read. Make that an exceedingly fast read. The story rockets along at breakneck pace, and the chapters fly by in a rush. It's a roller-coaster ride filled with betrayal and plot twists, with de Lint only letting the reader up for air at brief intervals. This is de Lint's first foray into the genre… written the better part of 15 years ago while he was still familiarizing himself with his fantasy worlds. Were he to come out firing on all cylinders with a book that would remake the hard-boiled detective genre, well, I could only conclude that his career took a vastly wrong turn way back when.
What we have, instead, is a fun detective novel perfect for the beach, park or anywhere else; lazy summer days beg for easy reading. While de Lint fans will probably never rank Lisdoonvarna up there with Moonheart or Memory and Dream, it's still a welcome break to see the author stretch beyond his overly familiar Newford environs and try something new. Had he followed this muse more aggressively, there is no telling what strange and interesting places he may have taken us.