Dark Jenny is the third novel in the Eddie LaCrosse series by Alex Bledsoe. The series is a blend of fantasy and hard-boiled detective/noir genres, and both suffer a bit in the mix. Having not read the previous novels, I tried to give my disappointments with Dark Jenny a grain of salt. However, I believe that each novel in a series should be able to stand on its own at least as far as character, plot, and setting are concerned—especially in a series such as this, where each story is the main character solving a different mystery with no other overall plot to connect the novels. Dark Jenny was an average read and didn’t fall into the bad end of the spectrum, but was nowhere near the supremely good end, either. The novel was boring for me and easy to put down. I probably never would have finished it if I wasn’t reviewing it.
I guess you could call me a detective…
Eddie LaCrosse is a sword jockey—a sort of blade for hire who provides services for clients. The novel begins ten years in the future as a coffin arrives for LaCrosse while he is sitting in a tavern. He volunteers to tell the tale of the coffin to the other bar patrons as it relates to an old case. I suppose I should give LaCrosse a bit of leeway as it didn’t sound to me as if a sword jockey was really in the business of solving big mysteries. Usually they just investigated cheating husbands, as LaCrosse was doing just before the first murder and central mystery to the story occurred. However, if I’m going to read a detective novel, even one meshed with fantasy, I want a good mystery and this, alas, was not.
LaCrosse himself says towards the end that he should have understood much sooner. Given all the clues we learned as he did, I have to agree. Some things LaCrosse did made me want to bang my head on the nearest hard object. For example, he doesn’t tell the Lord—who he had traveled a long distance to see—that he had seen a great load of dust on his way, which signified a large army was headed towards the King—along the path the Lord would soon be traveling. His skills just weren’t up to par, even on such a so-so mystery, which makes it all worse. You want the detective to be smarter than you when you’re reading a detective story. I was looking for Sherlock in fantasy and ended up with Joe Schmo.
Where are we again?
Another, admittedly minor, annoyance was the use of names in the book. Gary, Ted, Liz, Angelina, and Bob… I’m no expert in medieval or renaissance names, but I do notice when names throw me out of a novel. These all seemed way too modern and not fantastical enough. Additionally, I felt like the author was trying too hard taking conventions that occur in detective noir and translate them to a fantasy setting. I felt like he sat down and brainstormed a bunch of ideas to blend the two genres and then used them without spending the time to really make them gel. For example, LaCrosses’ office conveniently has a large free-standing cupboard where he keeps his old case files on vellum sheets. Sounds suspiciously like a file cabinet to me. To others the blend of fantasy and noir may have worked, but for me it was definitely more of a hindrance. There was too much modern-day and not enough fantasy for me.
King Art… Marcus Drake and Co.
The case that LaCrosse relates is basically a parody of the classic King Arthur story. Bledsoe throws in some twists in an attempt to make the mystery somewhat fresh as we all know how Arthur’s story turns out. In fact, we all know how Marcus’ story turns out as well. The interest from the bar patrons in LaCrosse’s tale is not simply because of the casket but because of the legend of the country of Grand Bruan (sound familiar?) which has been famously embroiled in bloody civil war for the preceding ten years. They want to know from a reputable source what really happened the day that King Marcus died. I’ve never been much of an Arthurian literature fan, so I haven’t read the myriad books which retell his story, such as The Once and Future King by T.H. White or the Avalon series by Mercedes Lackey. I’m not sure if part of my disinterest in the novel was because of this, so I really can’t say whether Arthurian fans would enjoy the book.
Why should you read this book?
If you’re a fan of detectives or noir fiction and are interested in the blend of noir and fantasy, you might enjoy the series as well as this book. But if you prefer your fantasy a bit more fantastical, I would opt for another novel that might be more suited to your tastes. It’s like one of those summer reads, light and airy and quick but just kind of okay.