Cool Things: Master of Plagues

If you’re not reading E.L. Tettensor‘s Nicholas Lenoir novels you’re really, really missing out.

In her first novel Tettensor introduced us to Lenoir, a tired old detective who spent a good chunk of his adult life in terror of an otherworldly creature that pursued him for crimes he barely understood. Now, with his peace made to the higher powers, Lenoir has to try and find a new purpose to a life he long though forfeit. His passion for his work has returned, his brilliance, once shaded by apathy, now shines all the brighter and things are generally going well for him.

And then the plague breaks out.

Normally this wouldn’t be the territory of the Kennian Metropolitan Police but some of the doctors working to contain the plague have become convinced that it was started on purpose and that… well, that most definitely is a crime. Problem is, even if they catch the people responsible Lenoir and his fellow hounds won’t be any closer to actually stopping the plague.

Or will they?

Master of Plagues is a wonderful progression from Tettensor’s first Lenoir novel. It changes the game in a number of ways – supernatural elements in this yarn are much less pronounced, although one paranormal character from the first book returns. Lenoir is up against criminals with totally mundane motives this time, even if their methods are spectacularly unusual, and he’s not looking over his shoulder for specters or fiends any more either, making the threat of death by misadventure or disease somehow more intimidating.

What’s more, Lenoir now has to juggle his desire to see criminals brought to justice with his desire to see the suffering innocent brought relief. He’s trying to find a cure as well as catch a mass murderer and every step he takes in one direction seems to take him further from the other goal. Lenior’s trying to reconcile this quandary gives us great insight into his character and motivations.

On top of that, there’s a new dynamic between Lenoir and his Sergeant, Bran Kody. Kody is ambitious and worked with Lenoir to learn how he solved cases. Kody’s goal was to move up the ranks as quickly as possible. He didn’t really like the apathetic Inspector Lenoir, even if he did respect his superior’s brilliance. But now, with Lenoir more invested in what’s going on around him, Kody is starting to see the foundation of a good man emerging from the stagnant soul that once was Nicholas Lenoir, and, for his part, Lenoir is starting to value Kody’s drive and goals as well. The pressure the plague puts on both really brings out the changes as they happen.

The story itself is well written, well paced and suspenseful. There’s a real mastermind at work here, scheming for their own profit at the expense of others using a scheme that is as brilliant in it’s simplicity as it is chilling in it’s callousness. Lenoir’s (and really the whole culture’s) unfamiliarity with disease and the unusual angle the criminals are exploiting make it no surprise the police don’t catch on faster making it a story uniquely suited to Tettensor’s world as well.

Master of Plagues is a well written story, perfectly suited to its characters and its world and offering deep and satisfying insights into the people that populate it. What are you waiting for? Go read it now!

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Cool Things: Nicholas Lenoir

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.