Squee. I can’t put this series down. Witty, interesting, well-written, an actual investigation–happy girl. Why, oh why can’t work put me on-call today?
Markhat has returned to the office after successfully solving a missing-persons case, and can only shake his head at the innocence of some people:
“You’d think that surviving the War would teach a man certain things–don’t volunteer, don’t go in first, don’t put wads of cash in paper envelopes and ask a mob of strangers to take it cross country–but you’d be wrong.”
Before he knows it, he on the job again: Martha Hoobin, steamstress for a high-end brothel, has disappeared. Her Hoobin brothers, each one larger than the last, are convinced she’s in trouble, but their glowing descriptions of their sister’s virtue have Markhat struggling to rein in his sarcasm:
“She is the daughter of our mother, of our father,’ said Ethel, as if that would explain the unimpeachable purity of Martha’s soul. ‘She sews. She does not leave home, without word, without warning. Martha does not do this thing.’
I might have asked a smaller man about the diameter and luminous intensity of his sister’s halo. But I considered the restrained rural nature of the Hoobin sense of humor and merely nodded.”
But Markhat isn’t the only impertinent being around:
“Then, with a great show of elaborate grace, he [the ogre] doffed his three-cornered, feathered hat, stepped out of my path, and motioned me to the doors with a grand, easy sweep of his clawed four-fingered hand.
‘Enner, ‘ordship,’ he growled, grinning around his tusks. ‘Enner.’
The doors opened as I hit the top step, and then I was inside, leaving sarcastic ogres and the clatter and rumble of downtown Rannit behind.”
His investigation takes him to the Velvet, the establishment Martha is employed at, and Markhat finds himself struggling to control himself with all the seduction charms inside:
“The mojo lingered, though, and it did its best to turn my thoughts from purity, which meant it was reduced to the arcane equivalent of whispering things like ‘see how she wears that pencil seductively behind her right ear’ and ‘those pants are rather tight, in a loose sort of way, are they not?'”
What is wonderful about the writing is the way Tuttle slowly builds from Markhat’s perfunctory investigation into something truly horrific and dangerous. The prologue foreshadows the seriousness of the eventual conflict; the initial playfulness is the pretty wrapping paper stripped away as Markhat discovers corruption and evil. His search brings him into contact with the Corpsemaster, one of the most powerful beings in the land. The description in this section is thoroughly stomach churning, giving a sense of the dark side of the other beings, the politics of the city and his own stake.
I enjoyed the way the external conflict dovetailed with an internal one, and if parts of the plot weren’t unexpected, they were deeply engaging–I was reading as I left work, the first time I’ve walked halls and taken elevators with my nose in a book for a very long time. I can’t say I was surprised by the plot development, which is my only reason for a less than five star designation. Yet it occurs to me that Tuttle bears a crucial hallmark of a first-class story-teller; able to take familiar elements and craft a tale that not only has the listener chuckling, but gripping the edge of the seat.