- Dead Man in a Ditch (The Fetch Phillips Archive #2).
- Luke Arnold.
- 448 pages.
- Urban Fantasy.
- My Rating: Hellyeah Book Review.
The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need?
Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.
Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.
Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.
What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back.
Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world.
But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I’m not an urban fantasy fan. It isn’t one of my favourite or ‘go-to‘ genres, but I loved Arnold’s debut The Last Smile in Sunder City and I was thrilled to be back in the grime of Sunder City and the melancholic embrace of Fetch Phillips in Dead Man in a Ditch.
Six years ago a devastating event that has come to be known as ‘the Coda’ killed magic, like flipping a switch, in an instant it was gone, disappearing from the world in an instant. Humans had hoped to harness magic for themselves, taking control of the source, but all they did was break the world and leave it without magic. The magic also left the magical races who all had a spark inside and were connected to the source, that connection was severed and many died, many others were transformed as the magic left their bodies leaving them disfigured and mutated, some went mad from the loss and some survived relatively unscathed too. Populations were decimated, all of the creatures lost a part of themselves, everything that they were and they are now hollow, empty shells of what they once were, living a half-life, struggling to adapt and slowly fading from the world. The loss of magic also ended many industries too, dwarven forges went cold, goblin-made machinery stopped working and in Sunder City, itself, the foundation of the City was built on a vast underground fire pit that by way of magic-powered the city and with the loss of magic the city lost its power source.
Dead Man in a Ditch starts a few months after the end of The Last Smile in Sunder City. After the events that took place in The Last Smile in Sunder City there are murmurings on the streets and whispers in the wind about the possibility of magic returning to the world and Fetch Phillips has gained a reputation as the person who is looking into the possible return of magic, meaning that his services as the ‘Man for Hire‘ are in more demand than ever before.
Fetch is called to assist the Sunder City Police Department when Lance Niles, a newly arrived to Sunder City human businessman who is buying up a lot of property is killed in The Bluebird Lounge a human-only members’ club. The cause of death looks magical which should be impossible as magic is gone from the world, but, as inexplicable as it seems, the grisly death looks unusual and the killing points to magic being used. Usually Fetch has a very tenuous relationship with the police, namely, they tolerate, often beat and interrogate him. With the cause of death looking suspiciously magical and his ability to ask questions and go places that the police can’t Fetch is hired by Detective Simms, in an ‘off the books’ and non-official capacity to look into the killing, uncover the truth and find out if the murder was committed using magic and if so, find out how magic has returned to the world. With the promise of a rich reward Fetch agrees to help and hopes to find a rational explanation behind the death rather than magical to quell and put an end to the burgeoning rumours regarding the return of magic, it is gone and never coming back. As well as searching for a killer who killed in an impossible way Fetch has a few other small cases to contend with too. At first, the cases all seem separate, but soon tentative strands are reaching out from each case, connecting them together and they spiral outwards with far-reaching consequences for Fetch, the whole of Sunder City and for the future.
Fetch is the ‘Man for Hire’ a private investigator who, in the post-magic world plies his trade on the streets of Sunder City and works solely for the now non-magical races, they are his clients, he won’t work for humans. Fetch does this to try and atone for his past mistakes and for his part in killing magic. Each case that he takes is done to help with the guilt that he feels for his role in breaking the world in the hope of being able to readdress the balance and to balance the scales, though he knows that they will never truly be balanced. Fetch is worn down by life, lost in a sea of regrets, weighed down by the burdens that he carries and he is a man who walks alone with a darkness inside of him. Fetch hates himself and humanity for the suffering that they have caused, he can’t erase the past, the mistakes that he has made or right the wrongs that he has committed, but deep down, buried somewhere in the depths of his tattered and torn soul he believes that he can still do some good in the world.
In Dead Man in a Ditch, we see Fetch come face-to-face with his past and a ghost that has haunted him for six long years making certain elements of the story deeply personal to him. As a character, Fetch is introspective, often times internally warring with himself and although he is mired in constant misery there is a charm to his world-weary melancholy. Arnold does a tremendous job of bringing to life those feelings of self-loathing that Fetch feels, they emanate off the pages and strange as it sounds those traits are what make Fetch such a likeable character who you can’t help but root for.
The only real complaint and it’s only a minor quibble that I had with The Last Smile in Sunder City was the lengthy information dumps that populated the narrative. Arnold would leave the current story, wander off and you would find yourself in a vast well of information about the history of the world, a specific species, etc. While informative and used as a way to add a deeper understanding of the world they didn’t feel natural, interrupted the flow and took you out of the story. This time around, in Dead Man in Ditch with Arnold already laying the foundations of his world in the previous book he is able to focus far more on the current story that he is telling allowing a far better flow to his storytelling across the pages. Any information that is required to add backstory, context and additional depth is told through short flashbacks by Fetch, himself, his experiences and his conversations with other characters and it feels far more organic, an extension rather than a detour and is used sparingly to augment and enhance the story.
Along with Fetch, who I felt continued to grow and show impressive development there are a variety of other characters in Dead Man in a Ditch, the good, the bad, the shades of grey, some returning and some new who all contribute to and round-out the story.
As a setting Sunder City is vividly realised with a lived-in and well-worn feel to it. It is pitted, tarnished and decaying with the colour bled out. Populated by both humans and non-humans it has seen better days and like the once magical creatures, it is also now diminished by the loss of magic with the residents desperately trying to get by, to make a living and survive in the post-magic world that left the races broken and bereft. In Dead Man in a Ditch, Arnold delves deeper into the economical ramifications that the loss of magic has had, the politics and we see far more of Sunder City and the wider world, visiting various unsavoury districts in the city, itself and travelling to a couple of locations in the surrounding area outside of the city.
There’s far more action in Dead Man in a Ditch than there was in The last Smile in Sunder City, namely, Fetch getting beaten up, a lot, he really takes a pounding on numerous occasions throughout the story. Honestly, everyone seems to love beating up Fetch and it is a favourite hobby of the population of Sunder City. While I wouldn’t class Dead Man in a Ditch as action-orientated, the extra action was a nice touch and welcome addition to the story.
Dead Man in a Ditch, like its predecessor, is well-written by Arnold, but there are definite improvements to be seen, he has honed his craft and sharpened his skills as a writer. The writing is sombre in tone and grimly lyrical with many meaningful sentences, thoughtful and deep that hit hard and some unique turns of phrase to be found along with a gallows style of humour that is also incorporated.
Reading my review of Dead Man in a Ditch it may all sound rather bleak and depressive and while it is definitely a case of the sun not shining on Fetch it is a tone that fits the story, the setting and the character perfectly making Dead Man in a Ditch enjoyable and entertaining. For Fetch and for Sunder City, you can’t go back, but you can move forward and well, there is always the chance that you will find a fire in the dark to light the way and give you a glimmer of hope that not all is lost for the future.
Purchase Dead Man in a Ditch (The Fetch Phillips Archives #2) by Luke Arnold.
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