A debut urban fantasy novel tells the story of an ethically challenged magician holed up in a resort town in Cornwall.
Fleeing his gambling debts (and the large men attempting to collect them), London magician and ne’er-do-well Alexander Crowley—great-grandson of a famed occultist—flees to the beach town of St Ives to lay low for a while. The profane and casually criminal Alex plans to relax for the summer, using his mesmerizing ability to steal money and services from cabbies and little old ladies. But upon arriving in town, he is immediately contacted by the local (rivalrous) divinities—an ancient Celtic saint named IA and a bar-owning demon called Mr. Bucca Dhu—who make it clear that a low-key vacation is not on the table. “You will not be left alone or at peace in this town without my assistance, Mr Crowley,” IA warns him. “Your presence will be like a magnet for ne’er do wells, both human and other.” As if that isn’t enough, his presence also attracts an unlikely sidekick in the form of the hapless town novelist, Booby de Faux. IA turns out to be right: Alex’s magical gifts—as well as his flexible moral compass—make him a desirable contractor in St Ives, and he is soon facing off with local Mafiosos, medieval ghosts, talking seagulls, ancient kings, and vampires who disguise themselves as cats. Compared to this lot, maybe facing a few debt collectors wasn’t all that bad. Barr’s prose is jocular and laden with slang, more Guy Ritchie than J.K. Rowling: “My old man used to do nights and it made him a right grumpy git. I had considered asking Booby to knock up some curtains for this gaff as I never could sleep during the daytime. Should have been a bloody vampire, now there was a thought!” Formatted as a series of episodes rather than one long narrative, the book has a lovely, leisurely pace that fits perfectly with its romantic setting. Alex himself is a rather unlikable protagonist—he objectifies most women he meets (“Alert and pert, a poor man’s Brigitte Bardot stood behind the counter…The assistant looked better stacked than the shelves”) and is neither as funny nor as suave as the author clearly means for him to be. Yet the story remains largely readable nonetheless.
A stylish and distinctive tale full of British con men and supernatural creatures.