(2017) David Gemmell, Gollancz, £14.99, hrdbk, 256pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21992-2
Rhyming Rings is a crime novel set in south London, where a young journalist becomes involved in the hunt for a sadistic killer. It contains elements of the supernatural, as he works alongside a homely psychic and a fierce mystic warrior. It is all set in the grim Britain of the mid 1980ís. So it is more than your average crime story, to say the least of it.
I believe that reviewers should begin by making their loyalties clear: I was a big fan of David Gemmell. I had never really enjoyed fantasy novels, could not finish Lord of the Rings because of all the Elvish singing Ė then along came a writer who understood big men hitting things with axes. Uncomplicated worlds, generic tribesmen and city folks, one-third of the story setting up the battle, the next two-thirds just a blood filled slugfest. Because of this, I approached Rhyming Rings with an awful lot of good will.
There is a lot here for fans of Gemmell to like. He is playing out themes that are very familiar from his fantasy fiction Ė old warriors, young idiots growing up a bit, evil villains. Putting this into a modern day setting works beautifully, it is almost magical realism but with Gemmell's trademark violence. It also helped that the setting was one he knew well, a local newspaper office back in the eighties. That added a feeling of realism thatís missing in most of his fantasy work. Itís also very much the world of my youth, that dingy, rainy London before the profits of North Sea oil turned it into the Dark Empire of Grand Bretagne.
On the other hand, I quickly found myself asking where this book had come from? Sadly, Gemmell died in 2006. As a prolific author, he must have had any number of false starts and complete first drafts that got dropped because they did not quite work. It is not clear whether this was an early novel that got left in a desk draw, or something he was experimenting with later on. There is a rough quality here. A lack of polish, particularly in the finalé of the book. It is not what you would expect from this author. I was also wondering if he tried this because he was aiming at something new, dropping magic into the real world. An attempt at some kind of modern mythology. It does not quite work but then most first attempts fail. Where would this have gone if he had pursued that theme?
For all that, this is an enjoyable read, and not just for fans. It is fantasy, but in the modern world, with crime elements too. Itís a crime novel, but where there are larger forces at play behind the scenes. It will never replace ĎLegendí but it has unique elements that certainly make it worth reading. And it does remind you just how damned good David Gemmell was.
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