Brian Lumley @ Forbidden Planet, 7 March
Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Underground Reading: Sweet Silver Blues by Glen Cook

Sweet Silver Blues Sweet Silver Blues (1987) introduces Garrett, a private eye in an openly high-fantasy setting. Garrett is a superficially-jaded ex-soldier-turned-detective. He already has an established practice at the opening of the book, the first in a long-running series. Garrett also has an extensive network of allies and confidantes, including Morley - a half-elf with violent tendencies - and 'The Dead Man' - a psychic corpse.

Sweet Silver Blues begins with Garrett being hired to track down a missing heiress. The search takes him out of his comfortable hometown and back to the distinctly uncomfortable site of his military service.

The author, Glen Cook, builds and describes a complicated world with a life of its own. He hastily outlines a tangled political scene, lengthy military campaigns and a mind-boggling social structure that includes a half-dozen mythical races (and their mixed offspring).

The plot takes a half-dozen promising turns, but ultimately fizzles. 

The primary story quickly loses its noir sensibilities and gets bogged down in vampires and stabbery. Not even Whedon-esque analogized vampires - just vampires. A secondary plot, involving political corruption and espionage, is enticingly introduced, immediately ignored and then conveniently concluded. 

The book - and the "mystery" - is resolved not by deduction or intuition, but by roll-to-hit fantasy violence. Garrett and his friends, through a disconnected series of indecipherable narrative railroading, are forced to launch an Aliens-like assault on a nest of vampires. This running combat takes up the latter third of the book.

There are some good moments. Garrett - although a poor detective - is a brilliant ex-soldier, and many of his interactions with the military bureaucracy are hilarious. A few of the world's tiny details also shine (elves gamble on the movement of water-striders), and do more to detail Cook's setting than the world-sweeping political drama. In fact, had Cook left out the primary plot-line entirely, and concentrated solely on the espionage subplot, the book would have come dangerously close to earning the 'fantasy noir' title it claims.

Finally, it is hard to resent any homage to John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series - and not just in the naming device of the books. Garrett is a poor copy, but the outline of the original stamp is still there in his jaded chivalry. Cook also appropriately throws in the classic 'knight in tarnished armor' line. 'The Dead Man', oddly, seems to serve as an analogue to Meyer - a strangely mothering source of academic information.

Taken on its own, Sweet Silver Blues is an intriguing - yet ultimately lackluster - effort. It seems like Cook made it up as he went along, rather than taking the time to plot out a holistic story. Although it bursts with creativity, the characters take a backseat to a beat-skipping narrative and over-enthusiastic world-building. As a fantasy, Sweet Silver Blues is adequate - as a mystery, it is a disappointment.

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