Colleen Mondor Reviews Even Though I Knew the End C.L. Polk
Even Though I Knew the End, C.L. Polk (Tordotcom 978-1-2508-4945-8, $19.99, hc, 144pp) November 2022.
Oh. My. God. If you are a fan of noir, if you love a dark crime mystery with a supernatural twist, if complicated family dynamics are a favorite addition to your drama reading experience, and if romance – solid, true, emotionally intense relationship-py romance – makes you happy, then you must read C.L. Polk’s Even Though I Knew the End. This book, in only 144 pages, delivers on so many levels that I barely know where to begin. How about just saying it was a sheer delight to immerse myself in Polk’s alternate 1940s world, and I hope to go back there again? Score! Score! Score! Even Though I Knew the End is just outstanding.
Okay, here’s the plot: Helen is a private detective with magical abilities, who apparently did something she was not supposed to and ended up cast out of the organized magical establishment. Now derided as a ‘‘warlock,’’ she takes cases on the streets of Chicago just as any self-respecting noir detective would do. The major difference from standard mystery fare is that Helen has been hired to take a look at the latest ritual murder site for the White City Vampire (and the person who hired her is actually not a person, although she doesn’t know that yet) and the establishment folks, who include her long-estranged brother, really don’t want her messing around in the case and she is tracking the White City Vampire. At least she can count on her girlfriend Edith who is the epitome of cool except…. well, maybe Edith is hiding a secret that is not necessarily bad, but pretty darn intense and about to flip Helen’s world.
Essentially, the plot to this book is that there is a serial killer who needs stopping, and Helen has a shot at changing her (doomed) future if she catches the killer, plus she really wants to catch the killer anyway, and there are a ton of other things going on that will all make perfect sense if you have ever read a Raymond Chandler novel and are accustomed to mysteries where the mystery is only one part of the larger story. (Confession: I am a big Chandler fan even when the plots don’t make perfect sense.) (FYI – Polk does not suffer from Chandler’s occasional lapses in plot coherence.) (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google ‘‘The Big Sleep’’ and ‘‘who killed the chauffeur.’’)
On top of the cracking plot, which quickly widens to include demons and angels, Polk does a grand job of world building here, giving readers plenty of historic Chicago while mixing in the magical bits. The city’s underground queer society is wondrously portrayed (I’m always up for a good nightclub scene!) and the very realistic and brutal history for lesbians is explored when Helen runs down a lead to a psychiatric facility and notes an old friend who has been wrongfully committed by her family. (This is a such a subtle, poignant moment in the plot, just devastating.)
Polk is a must read for me these days and always manages to entertain at the highest of levels. But with Even Though I Knew the End, the author really presents a helluva a story that hits dozens of literary high points. Powerful, emotional, stylish and smart, Polk proves themself yet again to be a talent not to be ignored.
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 January 2023 issue of Locus.
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