(2019) D. K. Fields, Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, 439pp, ISBN 978-1-789-54248-6
There's power in stories. And this is a story of power.
Dead bodies aren't unusual in the alleyways of Fenest, capital of the Union of Realms. Especially not in an election year, when the streets swell with crowds from near and far. Muggings, brawls gone bad, debts collected – Detective Cora Gorderheim has seen it all. Until she finds a Wayward man with his mouth sewn shut. His body has been arranged precisely by the killer and left conspicuously, waiting to be found. Cora fears this is not only a murder, but a message. As she digs into the dead man's past, she finds herself drawn into the most dangerous event in the Union: the election. In a world where stories win votes, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to silence this man. Who has stopped his story being told?
Here, we have the first of a trilogy written by D.K. Fields which is a pseudonym for the writing partnership of novelists David Towsey and Katherine Stansfield. Towsey is probably better known for his zombie trilogy 'The Walkin’ Trilogy' and Stansfield is better known for her 'Cornish Mysteries', a series of historical crime stories.
The story is told over a prologue and twenty four chapters but before the action starts we get a list of “The Swaying Audience”, basically an A to Z of gods that we are going to encounter with such terrific names as Beguiled Picknicker (the god of festivals, incense and insect bites), Overdressed Liar (god of butlers, beards and mischief) all the way through to Zealous Stitcher (god of healing and mending). As the book progresses, this is a handy little glossary to have, just to remind the reader that this strange named person, well, deity, is actually the God of… whatever.
Maybe it’s my auld brain, but I did find events a wee bit confusing at the start, but things did become a bit clearer, after all, this isn’t your normal fantasy world-building, it’s something different, because this is a society where the government are elected on the votes for stories that storytellers have told, which is a concept I’ve never came across before, and we get treated to a couple of these stories within the novel.
Plot aside, we are also treated to good, solid, believable characters, particularly Cora Gorderheim who is trying to solve a murder, and of course, Cora has all sorts of baggage from her past that she is lugging around with her, so we can fully expect some of it to spring open and a few secrets to be revealed. In some ways, she is a typical detective, well dressed, likes a gamble and smokes bindleleaf. With her cramped office, she’s almost more private detective than a public one, given that she walks on the dark side of Fenest. The plot, although a bit slow in places, quickly winds up the tension and the scale – there are stories within stories, and this is an election year, so the stakes are high. Given that this is book one, we don’t visit all the Realms, here we are concentrating on the Casker and Lowlander, two very contrasting worlds which we have to get under the skin of. And while there are mysteries to be solved, and a murderer to be caught, motives aren’t as clear as they might seem, taking us nicely into book two, The Stitcher and the Mute for some more fun on the campaign trail. Recommended.
See also Sebastian's take on Widow's Welcome.
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