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Faded Steel Heat
Glen Cook

Buy It? If you like his other stuff, sure. Wouldn't make a good introduction.

Ever since A.C. Doyle and Agatha Christie, mystery series have flown or failed on the strengths of their main character. Glen Cook's Garrett is a pretty good one; somewhat two-dimensional at times, but Cook isn't writing War and Peace here. He's got the requisite rough edges and heart of gold, a fascinating array of acquaintances, and average intelligence, which means that he and the reader spend roughly the same amount of time at sea in the course of the novels, which tend to labyrinthine plots. I generally like them. This one was okay, but it had some unfortunate flaws that came a little too close to making a mess of it for me.
    First the positive: I love Glen Cook's universes, and this one is no exception, especially since it's (slightly) less grim than some of his others. The background is detailed, and there's always a sense of things going on in the wider world. The city of TunFaire is drawn with just enough detail to make the reader feel as if they know the place, with enough left out that there's always some unexplored corner awaiting discovery. The scenery shifts just a little bit from book to book, giving it a sense that the series actually takes place in time—something often missing from conventional mystery novels, which sometimes seem determinedly detached from real-world events. And, as I mentioned, his characters are great, the bit players as well as the main personalities. The plot is solid overall, with more than enough chaos to keep you busy trying to figure out where all the threads connect.
    The main problem I had was the same one that dogged me with Game of Thrones—I just can't handle it when the main character does something egregiously stupid for the sake of the plot. In this case, we know there's shapeshifters roaming around by the bushelful, and we just found a dead man mangled beyond identification; well golly gee willikers, we know it can't be one of our guys, because they're all accounted for.
    That was the only dumb moment, but it's a really bad one, and it made it impossible for me to give this book my unconditional recommendation. The other problem was with the women. Garrett always has gorgeous women hanging off of him, part of the gentle parodying of hard-boiled detective novels that goes on in the series. In this one, a) with four as major characters and another two or three as walk-ons there's just too damn many of them, and b) they too often have absolutely no excuse to be anywhere in the scene. Garrett's distractibility when it comes to a well-turned womanly figure is a joke in a lot of the novels; in this one it seems to make some serious inroads on his professionalism, without consequence other than distracting the reader. And for some reason he felt it incumbent on him to use the phrase "faded steel" two or three times, which was another distraction because it felt out of place—I guess he felt he had to reinforce the title somehow.
    Also, Puddle and Sledge have suddenly acquired Italian accents, but I suppose that's not a big deal. Overall, I did like the book. The world continues to evolve, meta-plots reach their conclusion and others begin, and overall it looks like he can easily keep going for a while if he can only think of some more metals to use in the titles.

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Except where noted, all material on this site is © 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson