Juniper Wiles, Charles de Lint (Triskell Press 978-1-989741-01-6, $14.99, 191pp, tp) April 2021
Charles de Lint returns to the familiar urban fantasy environs of Newford with this new mystery, Juniper Wiles. While the title character is surrounded by characters longtime fans will recognize (Jilly Coppercorn prominent among them), Juniper Wiles’s story is fresh and decidedly modern. Although she is 30, older teens will likely find this book quite appealing, as it draws on a motif that particularly suits them.
As a former actor in a popular teen girl detective TV series, Juniper has recently left LA and her acting career to return home to Newford. With steady residual payments and shared living costs with her musician brother, the chance to pursue her art is all that looms in her future. But then a young man approaches her, insisting she really is her TV character, Nora Constantine, and what first appears to be a momentary annoyance gets a whole lot darker when the “fan” turns up dead a few days later. Because this is de Lint, and the setting is Newford, the plot moves quickly beyond the classic whodunnit scenario. As it turns out, the young man was already dead when Juniper met him, and what he wanted with Nora Constantine becomes the question that propels the narrative in all sorts of dire directions.
There is a lot of classic Newford in Juniper Wiles. Fans will enjoy seeing Jilly, Geordie, Saskia, Joe and many others who have populated de Lint’s short stories and novels. There is also a lot of talk about the creation of art and music, which will be familiar to de Lint’s readers. But beyond the comfortable, Juniper is a unique character, determined to pursue her artistic calling and resist the lure of living off her cult status and moderate fame. She wants to hit the boxing gym, learn painting techniques from Jilly, have some decent coffee and hang out with her brother. Mostly, she wants to love life in Newford and leave LA far behind. The ghost encounter complicates that plan tremendously, however, as does the sudden arrival of Nora Constantine’s best friend, who insists that Nora is real and in great danger.
Under Jilly’s urging, and with a dawning awareness that nothing in the Newford she thought she knew is actually as it seems, Juniper begins to investigate how the fictional world of Nora Constantine might be real, and in great peril. Like most literary detectives, she forms a group of trusted companions, follows clues and learns to set aside preconceived notions in pursuit of the truth. The trail rapidly leads into an otherworldly direction, where it takes a dark, even violent, turn, but Juniper remains committed. Eventually she finds herself in a surreal landscape that is both achingly familiar and horribly wrong. Most importantly, Juniper realizes that despite of all her protestations she really knows a lot more about being Nora than she thought she did and, importantly, she kinda likes it.
Juniper Wiles reads as a bit of a bridge between the classic Newford and a shift in direction to a bit of a grittier, more contemporary feel. De Lint does an excellent job of filling in all necessary blanks for brand new readers while giving his fans plenty to love. He wisely lets Juniper shine the brightest, as she boxes out her frustrations, soaks up the music of her talented friends and engages in a bit of flirtation with the cute guy at the local bookstore. The ending clearly points to more detecting (along with Jilly, of course!) and the possibilities, with or without Nora Constantine’s world, are endless. As someone familiar with Newford, I enjoyed the brush with familiar environs, but it was Juniper who really captured my attention. We all have a little girl detective within us, and Newford is a city perfectly made for mystery. Let’s see what happens next!
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the August 2021 issue of Locus.
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