I was coming off of the evocative, wrenching City of Blades, and by all accounts Hawk & Fisher was a fast, fun adventure, perfect for clearing the palate. Well, not really by my account. But by others, maybe.
It opens with City Guardsmen Hawk and Isobel Fisher headed through a slum on a mission. The couple has been pulled off a child prostitution case to find a young woman kidnapped by a vampire. A quick confrontation and voila! The first chapter ends with a quip. Chapter two begins the main story: later that night, Hawk and Fischer are tasked to guard a prominent Councilman bent on passing a reform law. Councilor Blackstone is at a very exclusive houseparty given by Sorcerer Gaunt, celebrating his first year in office. Various notables are in attendance, including his actress wife, his hired witch Visage, a policy adviser, another councilor and former general Hightower and his wife, as well as another couple who are close personal friends of Blackstone. Just when Hawk and Fisher get comfortable, the unthinkable happens. Gaunt releases a spell to isolate the house and voila! Fantasy manor mystery where one of the houseguests must be the murderer.
The writing, ye gods, the writing. Technically apt for action scenes, it brings me back to Dick and Jane days. You think I’m joking, right?
He opened the door a crack, stepped back a pace and then kicked the door in. It flew back to slam against the inner wall, and the sound was very loud on the quiet. The echoes took a long time to die away. Hawk slipped cautiously into the room, his axe in one hand and the lamp in the other. The room was empty, save for a heavy metal bed pushed up against the far wall. Fisher moved slowly round the room, tapping the walls and looking for hidden panels. Hawk stood in the middle of the room, and glared about him.”
Yeah, not kidding. While that may work for one or two action-focused paragraphs, in this case, virtually everything that isn’t exposition is written in this step-by-step prose. It is pedestrian writing, describing what should be a suspenseful scene in mundane words. It does improve as the story gets underway and dialogue plays a more prominent role, but it never impresses. In fact, for a mystery, it gets a bit muddier as more perspectives are thrown into the water. While it is primarily third person limited from Hawk, as the events progress, it jumps around into other guests. It was a strange decision, as it ended up spoiling the murderer before Hawk and Fisher solved the case.
Oh, and speaking of solving–I’m not sure where the acclaim for H&F come from, as they are the worst guards and investigators ever. Despite agreeing to stick close to Blackstone, they don’t. During the investigation, they mostly seem to ask each other questions, the other responding with a frustrated, “but how can we know?” particularly with sorcerous. Though they get the easy out of a truth spell, they are unable to come up with phrasing that will give them needed answer from the suspects.
As a very small aside, I find Green’s depictions of women generally problematic. One of the reasons I was interested in this is that it was billed as a ‘husband-wife team of fighters,’ something very unusual in the fantasy world. It still is. Given the reader occasionally dips into Hawk’s thoughts, we never get the equivalent with Fisher, except in the moment she’s fending off a rude advance. While they are supposed to be equals, she’s bored, drinks a lot of wine, encourages Hawk to relax, and during investigations doesn’t ask any questions. Oh, and she still gets her ass kicked in all the fights and is saved by Hawk’s intervention. I won’t go into the accessory women characters, except to note that they all are defined pretty much in terms of attractiveness and their importance is how they relate to the men.
Simon Green and I were clearly not meant to be. While I’ve tried many of his books, particularly a number in The Nightside, I find it very hard to remember details in most of what I’ve read–they all blend into one typical Green book. While I had hopes that this would be the series that brought me into his fan club–or at least helped me appreciate his writing–it appears that’s Hawk and Fisher are as forgettable as the rest.