Say hello to Felix the Fox, detective, magician and rogue. Felix is the son of a bankrupt suicide who makes his living solving mysteries. He lives in Egretia – which you may need to keep reminding yourself isn’t Rome.
Egretia is the author’s own creation. It is, indeed, a world based on ancient Rome but with its own life and its own particular ideas and ideals. This is an interesting and complex notion, that is handled with some skill. The world Felix inhabits quickly takes life, and the sounds, smells and geography are very well portrayed. Felix himself is a handsome devil, who knows he is attractive to women, but the author manages to avoid smug or vain. In the end, I liked our hero even if it took a while. He is well drawn, but I could wish for a little more meat on the bones of the other characters, especially the females.
In its essence this is a simple whodunnit. A young man dies and our hero is tasked with finding out how, why, and who is responsible. I don’t think it is in any way a spoiler to say that this is no ordinary death, there is no poison, and no fatal wound. So what killed Caeso? Finding out is a dangerous and complex business, and one that draws the reader deep into Egretia and the world in which it sits.
This is a cracking story and a guaranteed page turner although I felt it took a few chapters to get properly into its stride. It’s an excellent read, and is twisty enough for the most dedicated of mystery readers, complex enough for lovers of fantasy, and scholarly enough to feed the interest of alternative history buffs.
As an aside here, on character development, the person, aside from Felix, we come to know best in Murder in Absentia, is dead when we meet him.
In Felix’s second outing, a wealthy landlord finds his tenants are leaving, spouting tales of horrific events and whispering that the old gods – the numina – came alive and cursed the buildings. The landlord does what everyone in the city does whenever there is any rumour of dark magic – he calls for Felix.
Our hero has to separate fact from superstition – not an easy task, but Felix is uniquely qualified, being half detective and half magician. Even if he isn’t the greatest at either job.
This story gives us more of the internal struggles of Felix the human being, while still offering a thundering good mystery.
I shall hope to meet Felix again.