Carolyn Cushman Reviews The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold and Potions Are for Pushovers by Tamara Berry

Luke Arnold, The Last Smile in Sunder City (Orbit US 978-0-316-45582-4, $15.99, 316pp, tp) February 2020.

Fetch Phillips is a hard-boiled (or possibly well-pickled) detective type, working in a city that once ran on magic and hasn’t really recovered since the magic ran out in a devastating war. Being human, Fetch is less affected by the loss of magic than many of the supernatural races that used to run things, but Fetch was in the war, and he’s never really recovered from the experience. He barely ekes out a living as a “Man for Hire,” finding lost dogs and such, so he can really use the money from a new case: finding a missing, fangless old vampire, a teacher at a school that tells kids of the once-magical races to be happy as they are, even if it’s so much less than what their parents once were. The case is mostly a pretext for ex­ploring this grim world, with a lot of flashbacks to what was, and Fetch’s role in what happened, but it’s still an involving mix of worldbuilding and snarky hardboiled attitude. This is only the first book in the Fletch Phillips Archives series, and first-novelist Luke Arnold promises that now most of the flashbacks are done, things will pick up in the next installment, and I’m eager to see what he comes up with.

Tamara Berry, Potions Are for Pushovers (Kensington 978-1-4967-1963-8, $26.00, 288pp, hc) November 2019. Cover by Cathy Gendron.

The second cozy mystery featuring con-artist medium Eleanor Wilde finds her trying to make a more legit living selling potions in a nameless English village just outside the castle where her boyfriend, “the great Nicholas Hartford III,” lives. Eleanor’s getting a bit of a reputation as a witch, a mixed blessing. She knows enough about herbs to be convincing, but doesn’t really believe in magic, even though she sometimes hears her late sister’s voice in her head. She tries helping out with the village fête, but one sour old lady accuses her of the evil eye and dies on the spot. It’s murder, of course, and Eleanor sets out to clear herself by solving the case – with the questionable help of a couple of eager werewolf-hunting girls, and, of course, her conveniently rich, if skeptical, boyfriend and his vast store of local knowledge, particu­larly his familiarity with the nicely eccentric villagers, most with good reasons for wanting the victim dead. It all adds up to an entertain­ing mystery.

Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.

This review and more like it in the April 2020 issue of Locus.

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