Reviewed by Stewart Horn
There’s been a murder. One of the city’s most influential men is found stabbed to death and it’s a case for Jilly Paddock stalwarts Afton and Jerome. They have to spend time in an apparently idyllic artists’ retreat, but everyone there has secrets and finding the truth is not easy.
It seems firmly based in the noir tradition, complete with sexual intrigue, red herrings galore, unfeasibly beautiful femmes fatales, a villain who is above the law, alcohol consumption in every scene, and a tall handsome detective as first-person narrator.
Except that the detective is not quite human, the murder weapon is a live unicorn, some of the suspects are human-shaped constructs, and it takes place on a distant planet where technology and magic work equally well.
Ms. Paddock’s world-building is splendid. Her imagination is not hindered by anything so banal as genre boundaries, so anything can happen, but there is a consistent internal logic to her universe so that somehow the reader will accept anything, including robots at a séance. The prose is smooth, with lots of intriguing detail, but never too much – the story still whips along at a fair pace. There’s a feeling that Ms. Paddock really enjoys undermining the tropes, and there’s a playfulness which is a delight to read.
As usual, the greatest strength of her work is her characters. They are people I’m happy just to spend time with and get to know, and both detectives’ back stories are still only sketchy. I’m looking forward to finding out more in future books.
Overall, a superbly inventive and sensual experience. Highly recommended.