Review: Fantasy uses mystery and mayhem well

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A Lake Most Deep by Rob Howell

“A man, a horse, and a vicious kidnapping and murder saved me.”

I just reread the above line, to use as the intro for my review. And I just realized what it means. But I won’t tell you. To do so would be to spoil too much of this excellent book.

The reason I reread the line, is because it is the kicker line from the prologue that catches your interest, and starts you reading on the book. I wanted to quote it exactly.

This first novel by Rob Howell is a fantasy murder mystery set in his Shijuren universe. He weaves the elements of the murder mystery expertly through the fantasy setting, creating a sympathetic main character and believable supporting characters.

It is a good thing he gives a zinger to tease us in the prologue, because the first two chapters, while well-written, lull you into a sense of normalcy without a real sense of motion. For those who need action now, the sense might be to leave the book and find something else. That would be a mistake, however. Because in chapter three, when you, like the protagonist, are both lulled by the ordinary rhythm, the action collides both with the reader and protagonist. The effect, the use of rhythm, is very deft.

This is not the only place Howell uses rhythm to good effect in the book. His description of fight scenes have both a technical competence/plausibiblity to them and a sense of rhythm/pacing that keeps them live and not bewildering by excessive detail. And the rhythm of the gaps between the action scenes lend color and breathing space for the reader to appreciate the scenery of the city the story is set in and ruminate on the mystery before him.

I will mention one more technique that Howell used. There is a place in the book he has a particular character use a particular verbal tic  repeatedly, until I was ready to say enough, that it was overdone. Right as I hit that point he threw in a punchline that wrapped the tic up and justifed his use. Good timing again.

To comment on the mystery, let me first say that I am not a great mystery nut. I enjoy reading mysteries, and they must make sense, but I’m not the type that successfully solves the mystery, but I know when the solution is not satisfying. Howell wrote a good mystery. It wasn’t obvious, yet all the clues were there, and the solution was satisfying.

As a first novel, there are a few minor things you might expect of a first work, but nothing that makes you stumble or draws you out of the story. I guess the real proof is that I bought the second book: The Eyes of a Doll.

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