The latest from Alberts (Photographic Memory, 2014, etc.) sees a motley collection of detectives, special operatives, and imaginary beings investigate a murder that has displeased Death itself.
Jules Sallie, of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, can’t keep a job. He’s just been fired from his tech-support position with MyTronix, and his friend Billy at the temp agency Kronos & Associates doesn’t have a new job for him. Jules gets drunk and wanders into a homeless camp where he samples a strange concoction. After passing out, he wakes up feeling enlightened—he’s also made friends with a garbage troll named Billabong Willie. Meanwhile, in Madison, Death seeks the help of Ed and Phil, of the Unseen Detective Agency; they investigate crimes in the world of gods, demigods, and other fantastic beings invisible to normal society. Dedun, the Nubian God of Incense, has been killed, but he wasn’t on Death’s list—someone else is responsible. The link between Jules’ newly found wisdom and Dedun’s murder may lie with the Map Watchers. Hal and Calvin watch over Madison, keeping track of individuals both mortal and immortal using a sophisticated live map. When an anomaly pops up in Sun Prairie, they wonder if the Replacement has arrived. But who is the Replacement, and what is the connection to Dedun? Author Alberts has once again delivered a vigorous whirlwind of ideas, this time in the shape of a fantasy whodunit. His knowledge of classical and popular deities is put to work, and the result is so colorful that readers may wish for him to trim the cast (Santa Claus, Destiny personified, and a leprechaun among them). Alberts’ prose is swimming in puns, most of which are entertaining—though some feel forced (one chapter title is “The Garage Band is Garage Banned”). Longtime sci-fi fans will enjoy the references sprinkled throughout, including those to Star Wars and Stranger in a Strange Land’s “grokking.” Ultimately, readers should strap in for a bizarre, though warm adventure.
Audiences will be guessing not just who the murderer is, but what kind of craziness lurks around the corner.