Darkwalker by E. L. Tettensor
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Once a legendary police inspector, Nicolas Lenoir is now a disillusioned and broken man who spends his days going through the motions and his evenings drinking away the nightmares of his past. Ten years ago, Lenoir barely escaped the grasp of the Darkwalker, a vengeful spirit who demands a terrible toll on those who have offended the dead. But the Darkwalker does not give up on his prey so easily, and Lenoir has always known his debt would come due one day.
When Lenoir is assigned to a disturbing new case, he treats the job with his usual apathy—until his best informant, a street savvy orphan, is kidnapped. Desperate to find his young friend before the worst befalls him, Lenoir will do anything catch the monster responsible for the crimes, even if it means walking willingly into the arms of his own doom.”
It’s interesting how expectations can shape your experience of a book. If you look at the above promo copy, you’ll notice that there’s no mention of where or when this story takes place. Pair this with the cover art, which features the main character in a rather Victorian setting, and you may do what I did: I got the impression that this tale takes place in a version of Western Europe. However, this isn’t the case, and it wasn’t until a few chapters in that I picked up on that little fact. Initially, this threw me off a little, as I realized I was reading through the book and trying to figure out if there were parallels to our world, but after a bit I was able to get past that and just enjoy the book.
And there is a lot to enjoy. Lenoir reminds me of a calmer, much less driven version of Sherlock Holmes. Part of his characterization, in fact, revolves around his apathy concerning police work. You’ll find out the source of that apathy as the story progresses, and you’ll also see how Lenoir begins to shed that feeling and re-engage with his work.
Some of the novel focuses on the experience of Bran Kody, Lenoir’s partner. Kody represents the side of Lenoir that was abandoned years before—the idealistic, straight-as-an-arrow officer who firmly believes in the power of the law. There are also appearances by Captain Reck, who runs the department and who is a more middle-of-the-road personality when it comes to police work. With these two characters around to contrast Lenoir’s ennui, readers not only get a look at what police are like across the spectrum in this world, but also at how Lenoir must have progressed through his emotions to get where he is.
The plot is a fairly straightforward “whodunit”, with the added spice of dark magic thrown in. Not only are the criminals possibly doing some nasty spells, but Lenoir is facing down the Darkwalker, who has reappeared in his life and is connected with the crimes. “Straightforward” doesn’t mean “boring” or “derivative”, though, as I quite enjoyed watching the clues come together and the action play out.
There are some interesting things going on in the background as the plot progresses. For one, there is a Gypsy-ish race known as the Adali who are universally scorned as vagabonds and thieves. Many of those in prison are Adali, and their culture isn’t well understood by those who are not part of it. The author plays with the obvious issues, such as profiling and unfair treatment, but she also goes for some more subtle things. For example, an Adali salon owner named Lady Zera is concerned about growing rumors about what goes on in her establishment. She knows that, as an Adali, rumors are more likely to be believed, more likely to be sensationalist, and more likely to inspire people to act against her.
The theme of the outsider also runs through Lenoir’s story, and even of that of the Darkwalker. When contemplating the possibility of his death at the Darkwalker’s hands, Lenoir has to wonder if anybody would miss him. Not only has he not made much effort to fit in where he works, but he’s also an outsider from a distant city. And the Darkwalker? Well, you’ll have to find out his story from the book, but suffice to say, he’s far more than just a one-dimensional dispenser of punishment.
Tettensor’s first novel tackles some complex issues while simultaneously delivering a Victorian-esque crime drama that is sure to have readers hoping for a sequel. Darkwalker is a strong debut that will appeal to fans of both fantasy and mystery.