Welcome to Low Town. Here, the criminal is king. The streets are filled with the screeching of fish hags, the cries of swindled merchants, the inviting murmurs of working girls. Here, people can disappear, and the lacklustre efforts of the guard ensure they are never found. Warden 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, he's the only man with a hope of finding the killer. If the killer doesn't find him first.
After picking up and quickly dismissing a book that appeared to feature a 13 year-old mercenary leader I turned to another book that had arrived in the last few months of 2011, ‘The Straight Razor Cure’ by Daniel Polansky. I was immediately captivated, tweeting;
I’d bet a decent penny that the book I’ve just started – The Straight Razor Cure by @DanielPolansky – is a winner.
Well, I was right on the money, as it turned out.
The Straight Razor Cure shows us the world through Warden’s eyes, an ex-soldier now drug-dealer who gets himself wrapped up in solving the mysterious case of disappearing children who eventually end up found dead a few days later.
There is a real sense of ‘raw’ to this book, as if we’re actually reading an accounting written down by the blunt and worldly lead character, rather than a depiction of his heroic lifestyle, which doesn’t actually exist.
Warden is not a hero. He does good, occasionally, but really more as a by-product of his more nefarious dealings and selfish lifestyle. That doesn’t mean he is a character we cannot identify with, just the opposite in fact. I think that this more selfish depiction of a lead character is something that allows us to more readily approve – or at least understand – of Warden’s decisions.
Polansky is a good writer, and writes a very impressive story. Not as technically proficient as some authors out there, he writes more in the vein of Paul Kearney and with the pacing and grasp of James Barclay. There was a palpable sense of surprise by the end of the book, saddening though the development was, and the almost haphazard climax added a sense of reality to a very gritty book.
Honestly, this book is going to be a quick read. But it is a good read, enjoyable, and it will leave you feeling glad that you’ve read it and looking forward to reading more of Warden’s life in Low Town.
Joshua S Hill, 8/10
Immediately, from the very first sentence of Polansky's Straight Razor Cure I felt a dark mist covering the story and it only got darker and darker. In a good way that is. I think that this is what the author was aiming for, and although it took some getting used to for me, by the end I fully adjusted to it.
The introduction into Low Town is done via the main protagonist, the "Warden”. As far as I know he has not been referred to by any other name in and his history is only slightly revealed. The combination of a dark underground setting and an alluring past of the main protagonist made for enjoyable reading and made me curious about how the overall story and plot would play out. The personality and motivation behind the actions of The Warden left me wondering about the how's and the why's. Yes, he is an ex-soldier of “the Gray” and when he is confronted by the police force when the first child gets gruesomely murdered, he is somehow taking the lead in the investigation of why the children are getting murdered. On the one hand I can relate to why he is taking the lead, being an ex-soldier and all, but on the other hand there was for me a lack of a why. After he had relinquished every other tie to the army and turned narcotics dealer I couldn't see a link between a narcotics dealer and a do-good criminal investigator. I must give it to Daniel Polansky that on some occasions when the Warden is interacting with, Crane for example, the Wardens past becomes clearer but still a veil remains about him on how he became what he is. It still intrigues me and I hope that along the way things will become more clear about him.
Something that was done in a great way was the “scenic tour” around Low Town. Low Town is a warren in the city of Rigus and as the Warden continues his investigation, he visits places outside Low Town and in this visitation more and more details become known about the comings and goings in and around Low Town, like the other races, certain types of narcotics, the Art and a bit of the hierarchy present. As to be expected from a setting such as Low Town there is not a sunny day, but there’s snow, from a few inches to knee deep. The snow in combination with other rough weather added a certain flavor to the struggles of the Warden as he made his way through Low Town. This was definitely a nice take on world building. An aspect what I would like to see in the coming books is the origin of Low Town, how did the this place start to extist in the prosperous city of Rigus?
There was one thing that was unexpected. No technology. From the synopsis and the front I actually thought there would be a hint of high-tech technology in there: computers, cell phones and the likes. But there was none... And this allowed the story to become that bit more original, a crime solving novel set in a world where magic, referred to as “Art”, is the thing to be feared. It was fresh to read about this concept in a book. Straight Razor Cure is a great combination of crime-thriller and fantasy, containing violence, strong language and a very dark setting but all are all well balanced and not over the top.
Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for kindly providing me with a review copy.
Jasper de Joode, 8.6/10
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