A TROLL WALKS INTO A BAR by Douglas Lumsden (BOOK REVIEW)
A Troll Walks Into A Bar by Douglas Lumsden (Alexander Southerland P.I. #01)
A Troll Walks Into A Bar is quintessential noir reading. The genre’s identity, as I know it through the works of Raymond Chandler, is captured to perfection across what was a ten-hour audio experience for me. The main character has a lot of Philip Marlowe, but also shares certain traits with a more contemporary literary cousin. Like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Alexander Southerland is a former MP (military police), but unlike Reacher, he’s no flaneur, moving from place to place as he observes the everyday lives of his countrymen. The Marlowean influence is dominant here, with Alex in the role of a private dick(head*). Sutherland is a very fine investigator, owed at least in part by his intractability. It’s a wonderful quality, except when it gets you into decidedly unhealthy trouble…but then again, it’s also a great quality to help you get out of them. When Alex is warned off an incoming case by a corrupt police sergeant – the titular troll that walks into the titular bar – that intractability rears its head. There’s a dame in need of help, of course, and several associates that will leave an impression–a wererat, a foul-mouthed gnome lawyer, a chemist of some skill and dubious morality, many of whom are more or less willing to help Alex when he gets in trouble.
Alex gets in trouble lots.
As some of the above makes clear, this book isn’t only noir, it’s fantasy noir. With the allowances of the fantastic at his disposal, Lumsden has fresh ways to approach noir’s common tropes – when a piece of precious cargo needs to be reclaimed from a police precinct, for example, the magical shenanigans are an absolute delight to follow. Lumsden executes the coming together of fantasy and noir with skill, a skill I expect will continue to shine through the rest of the Alex Sutherland series. It’s not an easy one, either. Fantasy and noir are not instant bed-fellows, the way genres like sci-fi and horror can enter into instantaneous dialogue. Noir is an unsentimental genre, graphic in its use of violence and sex in a matter-of-fact way, its language a lot more down-to-earth than most contemporary fantasy. Lumsden’s first-person narrative, told from Alex’s PoV, is told in the language of noir. The result is an unvarnished account, rich in similes and other methods of comparison, vivid in the way all the best noir is. That’s to say, Lumsden is proficient in painting his world in the shades of grey that are such a linchpin to the noir genre. The marriage with fantasy provides splashes of bright colour, best encapsulated in the overarching conflicts that have defined and will redefine the world Alex Sutherland inhabits. Great ancient wars, mythical creatures long supposed dead, the possibility for an epic overarching conflict. These are small enough elements in the narrative we’re told, but they add an enduring air of mystery that will likely develop into full-blown conflicts further into the series.
If the overarching conflict in its near-mythological dimensions doesn’t appeal, the down-to-earth noir scenario Alex is forced to navigate has so much meat on the bone. Whether Sutherland is matching wits with the imposing troll sergeant Stonehammer, his corrupt boss of a captain; whether he’s throwing down with the gang leader Ten-Inch or testing the patience of the city’s finest fixer Fulton — the conflicts he comes against and survives are sizzling. Having closed this first case with the hugest grin on my face, I can’t accent to you how much I look forward to jumping into Alex Sutherland’s next adventure–something tells me it’s going to be a lark.
You’ll enjoy *A Troll Walks Into A Bar* if:
– You always wondered what a magical Philip Marlowe novel would read like;
– You love urban fantasy but are itching for a whole lot more noir than you’re bound to get from something like that nice lad Butcher’s books;
– You’re looking to open up a PI agency!
– And more! Prob’ly.
A Troll Walks Into A Bar is available now, order your copy HERE
** This’ll be funnier if you read the book, promise.