As a parody of the detective novel, the maverick cop genre, and the low Fantasy genre, Simon R. Green’s Hawk & Fisher takes quite some beating — it is an honestly hilarious take on the tropes of three. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much since reading…well, possibly anything; almost every page contains some wonderful joke or savage undercutting of the false sincerity of the situations encountered, not unlike William Goldman’s timeless The Princess Bride. For instance, Hawk is supposedly an expert in hand-to-hand combat with an axe, but he has only one functioning eye and therefore must lack any depth perception; it’s an absolutely genius piece of subversion, and such examples are rife. The only problem is that I have a sneaking suspicion — only a sneaking one, mind — that this book is in fact supposed to be taken seriously. Very Seriously Indeed.
If you take it seriously, though, it’s utterly ghastly. I mean, the first chapter gives us this:
“Three months,” said Fisher angrily. “Three months we’ve been working on that child prostitution racket. And just when we’re starting to get somewhere, what happens? The word comes down from Above, and we get pulled off the case to go looking for a vampire!”
Goddamn superiors and their sitting behind a desk! Pencil-pushers the lot of ’em! They’ve forgotten what real police work is! But this ‘looking for a vampire’ case — for which they receive much kudos later on, and behave like it was an actual achievement — involves walking down an alleyway, going into an old house, only having the “Bring a stake” conversation when at the door of the house, making an absolute fustercluck of dealing with a known dangerous creature (Hawk loses his axe in the fight…ohno!) because they go in without backup…and then buggering off and deciding to “let the backup unit earn its pay for a change”. And it’s full of dialogue like “We’ve been on some dirty jobs in the past, Hawk, but this has to be the dirtiest”. Now tell me: who among you would want to take that seriously?
At the end of chapter 2, a locked-room stabbing…just sort of happens, which unfortunately interrupts dialogue of this calibre:
“When I discovered the Low Kingdoms were in fact governed by an elected Assembly, presided over by a constitutional monarch with only limited powers, it was as though my whole world had been tipped upside down. How could he be King if he didn’t rule? But the idea; the idea that every man and woman should have a say in how the country shold be run: that was staggering. There’s no denying the system does have its drawbacks, and I’ve seen most of them right here in Haven, but it has its attractions too.”
I could read that sort of thing all day. Thankfully, magical means are ruled out — Green’s use of magic is clearly derived from Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories — and we get to The Interviews. The Interviews might be my favourite part, because they go pretty much exactly like this:
Hawk/Fisher: Where were you when the murder happened? Suspect: I was in my room. H (squinting): Really? S: Uh, yeah. H (squinting more): Reeeally? S: Yup, pretty much. H: Right then, send in the next suspect.
H (to F): Wow, this case is going to be tough, I can feel it.
[Suspect 2 enters]
S2: Well? Do you know who the killer is? Hawk/Fisher: Where were you when the murder happened? S2: I was in my room…
Seriously, act them out; it’ll take you about four minutes — though to be fair there is a point where they stare wordlessly at one of the suspects without speaking, so that might fill half an hour or so. These two, we’re reminded ad infinitum, are the best the city has — the very best! — and one of them has to be talked out of drinking from a wineglass found by the dead body even after it’s been explained that the wine might be poisoned. At least this makes it clear why they married each other, as they’re each stupid enough to think they’re doing the other one a favour.
Eventually, Hawk and Fisher are so bad at their jobs that a “truthspell” has to be cast so everyone can just blurt out what they know, reducing one element of the plot to a child’s logic puzzle. Though, in fairness, the locked room solution certainly benefits from this variegated tone: I’ll let Green have the motivation for it being a locked room, which is far more convincing than that of The Tattoo Murder Case last week, and there’s actually some half-decent intricacy involved in the murder itself…but the lockedness of the room, let’s say…well, I dunno. It might be fine, it might be awful…I’m too lost on the storm-tossed seas of this encounter to know at this stage. Someone else is gonna have to read this — and I do encourage you to read it, it’s a riot, just get it cheap — and let me know.
Thankfully there’s a rampaging werewolf in the final stretch — worry not, this is the least-spoilery spoiler ever — to get excited about. And then everyone leaves with a good ol’ laugh at the murder, destruction of property, ruination of reputations, livelihoods, dreams, and hopes, and — once again — all the massive amounts of murder they leave behind them. It is a reading experience quite like any other, both very much and very much not the auriferous episode I needed to lift me out of some reading doldrums. It’s not even a guilty pleasure, it’s just shit…but if that’s the point, I applaud Green’s chutzpah and reward him accordingly.
If it’s meant to be good, however, then oh my word does someone need to have a word with him. Because I am very, very confused if that’s the case.