E.L. Tettensor’s debut novel is a real doozy.
Let’s review. Has it got crime? Yes, and in spades. Grave robbing, assult, kidnapping, corruption – it’s all there. Has it got a trouble protagonist? Inspector Lenoir has run away from his job twice, once by literally leaving town and again by giving up on doing things right in his adopted home. Has it got weird, paranormal stuff going on in a vaguely Victorian alternate world? Yeah, I guess it kind of does.
So Darkwalker is a lot of stuff all rolled together. Fortunately for readers, Tettensor does an excellent job of balancing it all and making it work. Like most crime novels juggling a multitude of plot threads, Darkwalker features a number of crimes, some of which dovetail together and some of which point the investigator towards future cases. And some of which just serve to give us insight into the detective who investigates them.
Nicolas Lenoir is the man who investigates, and he’s an interesting mix. On the one hand, he’s clearly a man of strong principles. He’s a member of the police, after all, and once upon a time he was successful enough to gain a reputation. But at the same time his own standards of justice don’t seem to do much against the reality of pervasive corruption and power-broking that is typical of any society larger than two people. He’s old, disillusioned and haunted.
Quite literally, in fact. At some point in the past Lenoir made a compromise and wound up being hunted for it. The Darkwalker that stalks him is just as remorseless an agent of justice as Lenoir himself, but its task is above all human laws and immune to the power of human influence. No corruption, bribery or threat will have sway against it.
Too bad it wants Lenoir dead.
The one point in Lenoir’s life that isn’t defined by apathy and regret is his mentoring of an orphan named Zach, who aspires to be a policeman himself one day. When Zach goes missing while helping Lenoir with some inquiries the old copper will have to dust off his skills and slap some life into underused muscles. If he’s clever and lucky maybe, just maybe, he can save the kid before his own reckoning comes.
While there’s not much in Darkwalker that hasn’t been done elsewhere the book does have a charm all its own. For starters, it doesn’t try to do too much in a single volume. Lenoir clearly has a significant history and deep personal convictions, but other than a few hints we don’t really see any more than the plot needs to progress. That keeps things moving and our interest firmly on the present. It also has a society that manages to be full of realistic problems of social standing, political corruption and discrimination without preaching about it at all, a feat rarely accomplished by any author. But most of all it treats all its characters with understanding and heart, even when it doesn’t hesitate to bring it’s criminals to justice.
If you like paranormal investigations or just a good pulp adventure, Darkwalker may be for you.