A debut metafictional fantasy tells the story of a private investigator plucked out of his own book.
Joe Slade is the prototypical hard-boiled detective: street-smart, tough, wisecracking, and jaded. He’s attempting to solve his latest case when three strangers—emphasis on strange—step in and solve it for him. They seem to know everything about him, in fact. He agrees to go with them to their hideout to discuss a proposition they have for him. That’s when things get really weird: Time and space begin to warp, and he ends up in an impossibly large library filled with an infinite number of books. Even some volumes about himself. Joe Slade, they tell him, is the main character in a series of detective novels by an author named Ben Westing. These strangers—who turn out to be a wizard, an elf, and a dwarf—are characters in a fantasy novel by an author named Howard Zagny. “You’ve already seen we are able to escape from our own book,” the wizard tells Joe. “With your help, we will escape from all books. We’ll go there. To the world where the books are written. There we will confront our authors and live lives that we will write with our own hands.” What follows is their escapade across genres—romance, sci-fi, horror, and more—to literally meet their makers. Along the way, Joe has the opportunity to defy the tropes he’s been shackled with and find out just what sort of hero he really is. Sharp writes in a mercurial prose that morphs to fit each genre the characters travel through. He finds creative ways to portray these metafictional shifts, as here, when the narration switches from Joe’s first-person perspective to the third person: “Joe could not shake an unnameable strangeness that had settled upon him. His thoughts seemed more distant, less audible within his own mind. It was as though some kind of mental fog had settled upon his consciousness and would not relinquish its grip.” The book is clever, amusing, surprising, and genuinely fun: an old-time adventure that will keep readers on their toes while leaving the door open for any and all possibilities.
A lovingly designed metafictional sendup of genre novels.