Tomorrow Wendell – R. M. Ridley
Posted by maddalena@spaceandsorcery
Private investigators and magic are common ingredients in Urban Fantasy novels, but in “Tomorrow Wendell” they are used and mixed in a new and interesting way, blowing a breath of fresh air in the genre with its fascinating combination of noir and supernatural.
Jonathan Alvey is a P.I. and also a practitioner, i.e. a performer of magic in the city of New Hades – an interesting choice of name at that. In this world, magic and the metaphysical exist side-by-side with everyday life but never cross because, as Alvey explains at some point, people school themselves to see only what is acceptable: consensual reality is the lens through which average citizens choose to filter and un-see details that are outside of accepted experience.
“…as we get older, we are taught that our imaginary friends are not only not real, but frowned on – discouraged. One by one, beliefs are stripped away.”
There is a sad realization here, one that reached out from the page and spoke loudly to me: as a long-time consumer of speculative fiction I have had to deal with the frowning bafflement of those who could not understand my interest for stories and worlds that exist a few steps away from reality. The magic is indeed here, it’s just that not everyone is ready (or willing…) to see and appreciate it.
Back to the story at hand, one day Jonathan Alvey is contacted by Wendell Courtney, a man haunted by threats about his imminent demise, all given by inanimate objects: an automatic fortune teller, a prediction toy and so on. The investigator understands that, no matter who or what wants Wendell’s death, magic is part of the equation and he takes the case to heart. One of the reasons Jonathan comes across as such a sympathetic character is that he cares deeply about his clients: we’ll learn the reason why in the course of the book, but knowing it does not detract from his essential humanity, a trait that is also mirrored in the way people he has befriended react to him. Contrary to the usual cliché of the cynical and world-weary private investigator, Jonathan is passionate about what he does and never takes personal consequences into account when he’s on the job.
Yes, because the use of magic, an important tool in his chosen profession, does not come without a price: it is addictive and physically harmful as drug abuse, if not more, since in a startling parallel with drugs, the more one practices it, the more its need takes hold. The story is punctuated by Jonathan’s constant battle with the ups and downs of magic use – labelled the White and Black Dragon, and symbolized by the yin-yang motif that’s a practitioner’s emblem: his way of keeping the addiction at bay is to smoke and drink heavily – a choice that made me wonder at the character’s possible death wish because in the end he seems fated to die of some form of addiction anyway…
Alvey’s quest to discover the origin of the threats to Wendell starts somewhat slowly, but gains momentum along the way, transforming into a breathless battle with various creatures as the hour appointed for the client’s death draws near. It’s a grim battle, one that taxes Jonathan both mentally and physically and at the same time showcases his stubborn resilience – and his sense of humor: there’s a sentence that I underlined in the book, because it was both quietly funny and well timed as a tension breaker.
“He listened, waiting for the sound of footsteps, bat wings, or maybe tentacles slapping agains the faux marble of the hallway.”
Such a huge build-up ends quite abruptly, though, and even if the shocking resolution is believable and well prepared through a subtle throwaway hint, it left me a little disconcerted because the story is good and… I wanted more. Hopefully there will be other books, since this one has all the markings of the beginning of a series, but still the “door” closed too suddenly in front of my face…
On a “technical” side, in the course of the book I kept thinking it would have worked even better if it had been written in the first person: although Jonathan Alvey comes across as a likable character, the third-person narration keeps him somewhat removed from the reader, and a more direct connection with his thoughts would have brought him closer. There are also a few typos, and repeated or misspelled words that mar the fluidity of the storytelling, but not in a major way.
All in all, a series and an author to keep on my (and anyone’s!) radar for its fresh and intriguing approach.
My Rating: 8/10