A brilliant teenage sorcerer takes on the case of a beheaded bishop in this supernatural noir debut.
When the police drag 15-year-old Frank Sampson into a murder investigation, he immediately suspects that something is off (other than the cleric’s absent head). But since the detective in charge hates him, superstitious mobs are after him, and his own society is ready to expel him, not to mention the feminine distractions of plucky, perceptive DC Marvell and the bishop’s beautiful, enigmatic niece—well, Frank’s a bit bollixed, all right? Hounam skillfully integrates classic hard-boiled–mystery conventions with the baroque flair of occult horror. Frank’s mordantly hilarious narration elliptically conveys all the bleakness of this Church-ruled Britain, where industrialized magic coexists with Victorian technology and epidemic presbyopia by age 30 thrusts children into adult responsibilities. While the main characters are all working-class white, the background displays significant ethnic and social diversity. Raymond Chandler–esque antihero Frank is simultaneously supremely arrogant about his skills and rubbish (and self-sabotaging) in his personal life; his cynical, iconoclastic veneer barely conceals his vulnerability and romantic idealism. Despite the frenetic pace and meandering asides, the engrossing central mystery pays off with a twisty reveal that—in the best noir tradition—is both predictable in its tragedy and satisfying in its rough justice.
Violent, profane, caustic, grisly, and pitch-black—but all in a good way. (Horror/mystery. 14-adult)