Bitter Gold Hearts - Glen Cook

~~Moved from GR~~


Bitter Gold Hearts

by Glen Cook


After his last disastrous adventure (Sweet Silver Blues), Garrett, a human detective in a creative and chaotic city chock-full of sorcerers, elves, centaurs, ratmen, and more, is back to just back to trying to make a living in the big city. However, when a beautiful and mysterious half-fey girl turns up in his office, he has a premonition things are about to get complicated. The girl offers him an enormous amount of money to consult on the kidnapping of the son of one of the most powerful sorceresses in the city. But as he plunges more and more deeply into the corrupt politics of the upper-class, Garrett begins to realize that everything is not as it seems.

I was excited to read the series because I had read several reviews which compared Garrett to Raymond Chandler's tenderhearted tarnished knight, Philip Marlowe. But this second story has my mind pretty well made up: Garrett is no Marlowe. Granted, people in Garrett's world call him smart-mouthed and tender-hearted, but I just didn't see it. He's taciturn and doesn't really participate in the snarky badinage common to reincarnations of Marlowe. Also, while Marlowe appears to have a fixation with the female body and spends a lot of time flirting, he's less of a womanizer. Although always disappointed by reality, Marlowe tends to see women as something to be protected and kept safe and pure. Garrett, on the other hand, gets into bed with a girl right after meeting her, and into bed with a different girl the next night.

This book really reminded me of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Not only was the plot scarily similar, but Garrett himself is basically Sam Spade reincarnated, with an added weird necro-chivalric edge. Like Spade, Garrett has a dry, unemotional tone and usually gives little to no indication of his actual reaction and feelings about the events he describes. It is effective in giving him a phlegmatic, reserved voice, but makes it difficult to understand or relate to the character. Like Spade, Garrett plays along with the conspirators he interacts with, pretending to be a criminal, and it is difficult for the reader to determine exactly how mercenary he is actually being. However, like Spade, Garrett has his own peculiar code of honor. He may use and throw away women like crumpled tissues, but he apparently will do anything to avenge those he knew who died--all while sleeping with their rivals.

One of the aspects of the series I really don't like is the repeated use of Deus ex machina-delivering-characters. In fact, in each book I've read has two designated characters who hand out unlikely resolutions: one for knowledge, and one for uber-special spells to get Garrett out of any insurmountable battle. The Dead Man, a Loghyr lodging in Garrett's house, is a literal genius who can always supply any missing plot points or inference. Garrett also always manages to find a witch or sorceress who supplies him with pocket-sized spells that he uses whenever he faces overwhelming odds. It takes the uncertainty, and therefore the excitement, out of the story.

Again, the best part of the book for me was experiencing Garrett's well-crafted and creative world. It seamlessly combines the "realistic" seedy underbelly of the city found in detective noir with outlandish fantasy and magic. Yet again, the failing of the story for me was the characters. I didn't particularly like any of them, including the narrator. It's a creative world, but if I can't warm up to the characters, my enjoyment of the story is greatly decreased. Readers of UF and noir who like their protagonists rough and hard, more like Sam Spade than Philip Marlowe, will enjoy this book.