Faded Steel Heat - Glen Cook

~~Moved from GR~~

 

Faded Steel Heat (Garrett, PI #9)

by Glen Cook

 

Garrett is finally back home, but all's not right with the world. With the endless war between the Karentines and Venageti over, the troops are home and TunFaire is flooded with the precious silver that sorcerers use for their magic. But of course, for every silver lining, the people of TunFaire can find a cloud. The demobilized troops, coming home to find a metropolitan city and very few jobs, have decided to belligerently propound a new mission of human rights. And when half the population of TunFaire is elf, dwarf, pixie, ogre, and more, that can only mean trouble. Garrett just wants to laze around and drink beer, but trouble's afoot, and a triplicate of beautiful women has shown up to throw him right in the middle of it. So now Garrett has to handle mysterious doings at his friend's brewery, recruiting agents for human rights groups after him, shapeshifters taking over prominent persons, a military genius somewhere in the background pulling all the strings, and an irritating talking parrot that just won't leave him alone.

All this--especially the shapeshifters--adds up to a recipe for a twisty, imaginative plot and some truly great climaxes, but unfortunately, the story turns out to be half baked. As Garrett himself says,

"Nothing in this whole damned mess had gone the way you'd expect it to or made any sense while it was going to hell."

It was, improbably, both an idiot plot and a kudzu plot. I knew who the bad guys were from pretty much the moment they walked on. Given the pointed clues and hints, it was incredibly obvious--except to Garrett, who seems determined to avoid following any path that would lead him to that conclusion. Even so, their actions were so illogical and incoherent I had no freaking clue what was going on, even after the the "mystery" is unveiled. I kept hoping that what looked like a bunch of mercenary idiots blundering around would somehow solidify into a crafty and clever plot, but it turned out to be...well...just a bunch of mercenary idiots blundering around. And Garrett was the dumbest of the bunch.

So let's start with Garrett. He walks into a situation, does a bit of questioning, then gets attacked. He handily defeats them, for once, without help. But he doesn't bother to actually question his attackers. Next, people try to recruit him for the human rights movement. Hello. This is Garrett, guy with a Loghyr sharing space, a half-elf best friend, and a selection of seedy inhuman underworld connections. But Garrett doesn't suspect their motives. At all. Next, he's brought in to patrol a party after suspicious activity. When he discovers that shapeshifters are going around killing people and replacing them, and that half of the targeted family has been replaced, he remains unsuspicious. When people mysteriously disappear and miraculously return after near-death experiences, he is unsuspicious. Silver can be used to check credentials, but credulous Garrett just takes everyone on trust. To add to the chaos, two coldblooded killers are loose and out for revenge, and the eventual explanation for their appearance is incoherent. At every point in the story, Garrett takes the wrong turn and sinks his investigation just a little more. He eventually tries to do a Poirot by gathering all the suspects in one room, but since there are hundreds of them, chaos inevitably results. He is so incompetent it's a wonder he figures out anything at all. The story is also, as Garrett himself admits, a series of anticlimaxes. Don't expect epic battles or even much resistance from baddies with vaunted fighting skills. Things end up working out, mainly due to the staggering incompetence of the various baddies.

What kept me reading was the humor of the character interactions. Although I found his idiocy as an investigator unbearable, I found Garrett as a person significantly more likeable than in past novels. Part of it is due to personal prejudice. I don't like cheerful, thoughtless womanizers, and Garrett is one. The way any woman around him throws herself at him has always irritated me; I've never figured out if it's because, due to the war, he's one of the few men still in one piece, or if he's somehow so improbably attractive that it makes up for all his other flaws. Honestly, I suspect it's just spoofing the noir tropes, but I still find it irritating. However, in this book, Garrett's trying to get back in the good graces of Tinnie Tate, and he's doing his best to resist the five other beautiful women throwing themselves at him. I took a great deal of malicious enjoyment in his agony when they flirted with him and he couldn't reciprocate. I also liked a lot of the other characters thrown in: the regimental Block, the rather creepy Relway, and a new character, the timid (but clever) ratgirl, Pular Singh. Last, I loved the interactions between Garrett and his new companion, Mr. Big/The Goddamned Parrot. Cook really uses the power of the unreliable narrator here. Garrett spends the entire time complaining about Mr. Big and claiming that he wants to give him away or put him in a cooking pot, but also (although he won't admit it) worries for him and misses him when he's not around.

The story has a lot of promise. I positively adore fantasy stories, such as Terry Pratchett's Discworld, that deal with political contention between the different races; when used cleverly, it can provide some great illumination on our own cultural racism and bigotry. But in the end, I felt that Cook's portrayal lacked depth, and the fact that the political strife is not backed up by an ingenious mystery was something of a sinker for me. However, I still enjoyed the book. Although irritated by Garrett's idiocy, I found him much more likable than in past books, and I enjoyed the inclusion of characters such as Pular Singh, the ratwoman. I also appreciated Garrett's humorous narration. Last, I think TunFaire is up there with Ankh Morpork as a fantastically detailed, wonderfully gritty urban fantasy maelstrom. If you're looking for a little more of John Green's Nightside or Pratchett's Anhk Morpork, TunFaire is worth checking out. Overall, if you're looking for a light story focused more on fun than mystery, this is an entertaining read.