Review of The Straight Razor Cure – Low Town Novel #1 by Daniel Polansky

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straightrazorcureWarden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer, now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his. But then a missing child murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. And then another. With a mind as sharp as a blade, and an old but powerful friend in the city, Warden’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer. If the killer doesn’t find him first.

I’ll grant you the blurb isn’t full of joie de vivre – but this book is more fun than it sounds. Mostly because Warden is written in first person viewpoint and his grumpy, cutting narration throughout the story is often amusing and manages to render the more revolting bits less so. Not that Polansky tries to sanitise the bad part of town – but neither does he treat us to any gratuitous violence or revel unduly in the grottier parts of the landscape. Which is a problem I occasionally encounter with underworld fantasy – while I enjoy being fully immersed in the action, I don’t appreciate feeling the need to shower afterwards…

Having a character that pings off the page is all very well – but a murder mystery needs a lot more than that to work effectively. The world has to be convincing – and again, Polansky ticks all the boxes. Warden’s business interests on the seedy side of town require him to be ruthless and unpleasant, with a supporting cast of characters who he rubs shoulders with. He also has a part-share in an inn called The Staggering Earl run by his business partner Adolphus, friend and former comrade-in-arms, where he whiles away his time drinking and drug-taking when not roaming around doing deals. Or trying to find the child murderer.

Warden has a very chequered past which gradually unfolded throughout the book, allowing him access to some highly placed people on both sides of the law. Not that anyone exactly rolls out the welcome mat for him… The narrative is handled very well as various pressures steadily build up and Warden finds himself on the back foot, needing to solve the murders for his own survival.

I really didn’t spot the perpetrator until the final denouement, which was satisfyingly climactic, tying up all the loose ends. There’s no cliffhanger at the end of this book to encourage readers to reach for the second in the series – which in this case is entirely unnecessary as I’ve already ordered it. Warden’s snarky commentary on his nicely twisty adventures is an ideal way to while away the bleak January weather…
9/10

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14 responses »

  1. Hi Col, thank you for the comment – and I certainly HIGHLY recommend this one… For my money, the 2nd book just goes on giving the goods, so that by the end I was a tad conflicted – I wanted to know what would happen, but was dreading the end so that my time with the Warden was finished. Thankfully – the 3rd book is already out:)

  2. I’ve read this one because of your recommendation in the yearly post, and I have to say I enjoyed it, though the chapters with the backstory, although interesting, made me stop reading several times. I know they were relevant to the story, but interrupting the I’m-on-the-edge-of-my-chair story flow to give me something from the past… It got a bit under my skin.
    But all in all it was a very pleasant read, so thank you for your review and recommendation. 🙂

  3. Thank you for touching base to let me know how you got on, Joanne. I find your comments really interesting as I enjoyed the backstory and the way it stretched the narrative tension – it just goes to show how very differently people read books, doesn’t it? Do you want to read the other two books in the series?

    • I enjoyed the backstory itself (or rather backstories), I just didn’t enjoy the way it was inserted. Most of the times it was displacing me from the narrative and previous chapter/scene didn’t provide me anything for me to want to read the backstory. Usually I have no problem with jumping between different characters/narratives, I enjoy the “meanwhile at the other side of the world” inserts. But in this book, whenever the story jumped into the past, I tried to stay engaged and keep reading, but always put it away after 1-2 paragraphs. Maybe it’s also because the backstory itself is a compilation of somewhat unrelated scenes (saving the little girl, leaving for war, operation Ingress) versus slowly unveiling some secret from the past?

      • As for reading the other two parts: I’m not sold. I didn’t go to instantly buy them after reading (which happened to several other books in the past), so I might, but I don’t think I’m excited enough at the moment. It will probably wait till I want some fun, entertaining read.

      • I completely understand. There are a number of series that I haven’t continued because although I quite enjoyed the first book I don’t particularly feel like revisiting the world. And it would be a boring old world if we all loved the same books wouldn’t it?

      • Indeed. I still feel happy that I followed your recommendation, all in all it was a good read and a pleasant pasttime, so thank you :).

      • Ah, no worries :). Even if me and the book weren’t a perfect match, it was still worth it, I got insight into your taste which means I’ll be picking my reads from your reading list (I’m so lazy, rummaging through someone else’s reads! 😉 ) more accurately in the future. 😉 Scalzi is still on my list, and so is Tchaikovsky’s science-fiction and few others.

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