Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell

2 Mins read

Mick Oberon belongs to the classic school of the pulp PI. He works out of a cramped office with two chairs and a battered filing cabinet. His cases don’t bring in much money, and it sure isn’t glamorous traipsing the mean streets of 1930s Chicago looking to catch unfaithful spouses in the act. His overcoat and fedora have both seen better days, and if is clients are grateful to Mick for all the beatings he takes, well they don’t show it. He might have a few friends on the force prepared to do him a solid and refer cases to him the police aren’t interested in, but there is always at least one detective wanting to get his license pulled for either obstructing an investigation by refusing to break client confidentiality, or being on the wrong end of one of Mick’s smart-mouth clips. So far so Hammett.

Appearances can be deceptive though. Mick doesn’t carry a .44 in his shoulder harness. No, instead he has a wand. Mick is Fae nobility and the same pig-headedness which causes him such difficulty with Chicago PD’s top brass got him expelled from the Otherworld – the distorted mirror image of Chicago populated by the monsters of popular folklore, as well as some we humans (thankfully) have never got to know about. A return there would leave his fate in the capricious hands of Fae royalty, something Mick is really keen to avoid. Which is a pity since his latest case will take him back there.

Mick is engaged by the wife of a prominent gangster to find their missing daughter. Complicating things is the fact her father doesn’t realise she is missing. Her grandmother has brought with her some knowledge of folklore from the old country and understands her granddaughter was stolen some time after her birth and replaced with a changeling – a faerie that looks like her but will later reveal its true and evil nature. The fate of the true daughter is most likely as a slave in the Otherworld. Complicating things further, the father is currently at war with other factions for control over the city, and though Mick is working in secret he risks getting shot at from both sides. That is if the monsters don’t get him first.

By choosing the 1930s Chicago setting, Marmell succeeds in having his book stand out from the increasingly crowded field of paranormal thrillers, most of which are set in the present. It also allows him to draw on the artistic legacy of the great pulp writers whilst at the same time having a little fun. Indeed, this is a light-hearted book which just zips along with a hardboiled quip on nearly every page. My complaint though was that whilst the criminal side of things is well looked after, the paranormal side was just a little lacking in menace. The author does ramp things up towards the ending, but I can’t help thinking that authors like Kim Newman or Mark Chadbourn would have given the proceedings a more enjoyably sinister edge.

Overall this is a good start to a promising series and I look forward with some anticipation to the sequel, Hallow Point, which Titan is publishing in Spring 2015.

Titan Books

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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