I have to admit, I am a sucker for police procedurals — stories which track the machinations of the officers and the court system as they work their way toward nailing the bad guy at the end of the plot. I like them on television, and I like them in books. Recently some enterprising and creative authors have taken the police procedural in some surprising new directions. One of my favorite series is the Nursery Crimes Divison series created by author Jasper Fforde, who is most well known for his Thursday Next series. In those stories Detective Jack Sprat — yes, that Jack Sprat, though he has issues with it — solves crimes involving other nursery rhyme characters. A wonderful sense of wit pervades Fforde’s work.
Author Toni Dwiggens adds a touch of the outdoors to the police procedural with her Forensic Geology series. In her series, geologists Cassie Oldfield and Walter Shaw solve crimes through their knowledge of dirt. Dwiggens takes this niche premise to great heights when she adds to it all sorts of wonderful dangers such as highly radioactive waste, the baking heat of Death Valley, and volcanoes.
Her fellow indie author, Annie Bellet, takes the police procedural in a completely different yet intriguing direction with her new work Avarice. Avarice is the first story in Bellet’s new series covering the adventures of the Considerable Crimes Division in they mythical city of Pyrrh. Bellet follows some very traditional premises for the police procedural but along the way adds to each of them some new twist based on the fantasy world she has created.
First trope up to bat — the rookie:
One of Bellet’s character’s is a new recruit to the division. Zhivana Nedrogovna has risen up through the ranks of the street cops to achieve the rank of detective just before the age of thirty, a first for her species. That’s right, there are at least three different species of sentient fantasy characters living in Bellet’s Pyrrh. She is also the only female in the division. Playing the role of hardened and bitter veteran is Nedrogovna’s human partner, Parshan Koury.
Trope number two — the death of the old partner:
Koury is suffering because he has just lost a partner and feels responsible for what happened. Yet without giving anything away, the reason why he feels responsible has a distinctly fantasy twist. Like all good police procedurals, both partners come into the story with baggage and secrets. Besides solving the crime the partners have to learn to trust each other.
Trope number three — politics, lawyers and the boss:
The book also gives an all-too-brief view of the court system and the city politics which overrun the case. There is of course the moment when their boss tells them to quit investigating because they are disturbing the powers that be. Needless to say the partner’s relationship with their boss is strained. For me, these parts of the book are all too short and I am hopeful that when we see inside the courtrooms there are definite fantasy elements.
The crime at the heart of Bellet’s mystery isn’t revealed until later in the book so I won’t give it away, but I will say this: the apparent victim is an alchemist and the book’s name is Avarice. That ought to tell you something.
Bellet’s writing is strong; she lays out her story in serviceable prose, and the book is edited for grammar carefully. Not once did anything cause me to stumble in her writing, which isn’t often the case in the slush pile of Amazon indie fiction. If Bellet has a weakness in her work, it is her fear of giving the audience too much information. As a narrator, Bellet stays very close to her characters and switches back and forth between her two leads regularly. She does not however, give us enough information about either the overall world, the town, or the races which inhabit the town.
To be honest I was never quite sure what Nedrogovna looked like. I understood that she was furry and had a bit of a snout. I knew that her coloring was unusual. However, it wasn’t until late in the book that someone called her “ratling,” and I began to have an overall guess at her appearance. Yet, if she had a tail, it was never mentioned and never used during her several jumps from high places. Frankly with a blank left in my mind as to the physical descriptions of the characters, I tended to fill them in with the Law and Order cast. I am hopeful that in future books we get a better sense of place and appearance. That isn’t to say that Bellet’s characters are poorly written. Her leads have emotion and feel legitimate, for a fantasy detective story; hard boiled detectives aren’t supposed to feel, and this is one of Parshan’s problems at the beginning of the book. Their actions always seemed appropriate.
It is great when a writer can pull off one genre well. Bellet shows her writing chops in that she is not only able to write a great homage to a police detective story but to combine it seamlessly with the swashbuckling, magic and world building of a fantasy novel. With great aplomb, Bellet manages to give both genres their due. I am looking forward to reading many more stories of the CCD.
Avarice is available at Amazon for the Kindle and in various ebook formats.