Welcome to the city of Pilgrim’s Wane, where fairy tales are warnings, legend is history, and monsters are real.
America, 1920. Private Detective Laslo Kane is down on his luck, taking the cases no-one else will touch. When a wealthy investor with a murdered business partner offers Laslo a life-changing fee to get him out of trouble, Laslo sees a chance to change his life forever. But all the clues point towards the Pottelli crime family: the most powerful criminals in the city.
The mob is lead by the ogre Adamar Pottelli, and has men, beasts, and the undead at their disposal.
Laslo has a pair of silver knuckle dusters, a revolver, an angry ex-girlfriend, and a spirtualist medium who hasn’t realised he is dead.
Can Laslo survive and claim his fee, or will earning a living be the death of him?
I reviewed Fallen on Good Times: A Pilgrim’s Wane novel by Rewan Tremethick for Rosie’s Book Review Team.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
The movie version of Fallen on Good Times would have to be in black and white, or at least that kind of “color” involving dark shots with only the occasional shock of red. Of course, there would be a monologue voiceover, delivered in a pack-a-day gravelly monotone. In this debut novel, author Rewan Tremethick builds an urban fantasy that rests comfortably on the solid shoulders of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. His hardboiled, prohibition-liquor-swilling detective, Lazlo Kane, does indeed speak in metaphors and occupy the requisite sleazy office/residence where “A mixture of rickety old furniture and messy paperwork made it look like a librarian and a scrap merchant had fought to the death.” And Rewan Tremethick pays homage to other genre requirements:
Femme fatale: we all know about her—she’s called a “dame” and she has “gams” that defy nature. “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”–Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely. Only, Lazlo calls them “dolls” and when we meet him, Lazlo is asking one for a job (with near-fatal results):
“Jeanette seemed to have the wrong impression of me. She was imagining your typical private cop: smoking cigarettes so fast it would seem to a disinterested bystander that the first one burnt for hours; pinning two-bit thugs up against walls and grinding his teeth as he issued threats; using his notepad as a way of getting the dolls into bed…”
Lazlo, however, has very few delusions about himself.
“But that wasn’t me. An apartment so old even the rust on the taps had rust on it, the mould was mouldy, and the walls visibly ruffled if you coughed too hard. I had less money than I could fit in my mouth, an ex-girlfriend who I missed more than words allowed me to say, and a steady stream of desperate wackos with nowhere else to turn and stories so ludicrous no one else would give them a second’s thoughts. Unluckily for me, they usually turned out to be true.”
- Set up to take the fall: Lazlo, and everybody else around him, sees it coming. He knows he’s probably going down, but just doesn’t know how to be the kind of person who behaves any differently. What he is, though, is pragmatic about how to face the coming doom. “I was no hero—I was aware of that—but I was a survivor. Considering the number of heroes that live into their old age, I’d say I’d made the better life choice.”
- Friendly villain: the real monsters in Pilgrim’s Wane are of course the local mob, the Potellis. Everyone, Lazlo included, is aware that there is no way to take them on and live, let alone win. Scariest of all is their leader, Adamar Potelli, a monster in almost every way possible, but still a friendly guy.
“Adamar laughed again. At least he had a sense of humour—I’ll give him that—and none of the arrogance that one usually associated with a criminal mastermind. He could laugh at himself, although, to be fair, he did have the knowledge that a little while later I’d be a puddle of bone shards and blood on the floor. I guess that kind of knowledge makes it easier to laugh when someone insults you.”
- Girl Friday: For most hard-boiled detectives, an assistant is out of the question. A lucky few like Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade, though, do have the “office wife” to shelter, mother, and cater to their every whim. Lazlo? Not so much. His former (and still much beloved) girlfriend Kitty used to fill that role, we’re told, but no longer.
- MacGuffin: This could be anything—Jason’s Golden Fleece, the LOTR rings, Indiana Jones’ Arc of the Covenant, and especially hard-boiled detective Marlow’s Maltese falcon statue—an object that moves the story along without actually being important in itself. Luckily for him (and his readers!), Lazlo Kane understands that there are MacGuffins and there are also MacGuffins-that-might-yet-be-useful. (Not-too-spoilery hint: keep an eye on those “bombs”…)
- Bittersweet ending? I’ll let you decide!
Although he nails almost every point of the genre, though, this is homage with a twist on the detective noir, because in his little town of Pilgrim’s Wane, Lazlo Kane straddles two worlds—the noir world of the hard-boiled PI, and the even darker world peopled by beings from a hostile, horror-filled world. On the one hand, Lazlo is a hopelessly bad detective. On the other, he sees a world hidden from his neighbors, peopled by a universe of werewolves, demons, trolls, and goblins. Because he sees them, they come to him for help. And, as George R. Martin points out, when urban fantasy combines genres, you get to break rules.
‘The heroes of urban fantasy come out of the hard-boiled mystery, while the villains, monsters, and antagonists have their own roots in classic horror . . . but it is the combination that gives this subgenre its juice. For these are two genres that are at heart antagonistic. Horror fiction is a fiction steeped in darkness and fear, and set in a hostile Lovecraftian universe impossible for men to comprehend, a world where, as Poe suggested, death in the end holds dominion over all. But detective fiction, even the grim, gritty, hard-boiled variety, is all about rationality; the world may be dark, but the detective is a bringer of light, an agent of order, and, yes, justice. You would think this twain could never meet. But bastards can break all the rules, and that’s half their charm. The chains of convention need not apply.’
— George R.R. Martin (Down These Strange Streets)
I’ll say it right now. I loved this book. I loved the perfect pace, the gritty genre homage and mix, the complex characters. In addition to anti-hero Lazlo, there are terrific three-dimensional support characters such as intrepid reporter Rita Orbit, his go-to source/pal/closest thing to family. I loved the humor in almost every part of the story, the perfectly built world pictures, and yes… the monsters.
“I like goblins,” I said. “Mostly.” I’d gotten drunk with one once. He’d been a great laugh. Of course, he’d stolen everything apart from my socks and my overcoat (goblins have this thing that no single garment should have more pockets than you have hands), but that was to be expected. It was in his nature.
Do I have any complaints? As an American living in the UK, I found it occasionally jarring that the setting is American but the language is often British. Walls are “mouldy” instead of “moldy”, the noir is consistently “grey” instead of “gray”, funny things are full of “humour” instead of “humor”, etc. Some of the slang is peculiar– “bunny” seems to mean stupid, and “eel juice” to refer to liquor. But overall, Fallen on Good Times does a perfect job of providing thrilling, often funny, and always unexpected entertainment. Its story arc was exactly long enough, wrapped up neatly but leaving plenty to explore in the next book. I, for one, can’t wait to find out what Lazlo gets involved in next. Five stars, of course, and well-done!
- Book Title: Fallen on Good Times: A Pilgrim’s Wane novel
- Author: Rewan Tremethick
- Genre: Urban Fantasy
- Publisher: Paddy’s Daddy Publishing
- Length: 188 pages
- Release Date: 29 May, 2014