The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall
Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.
When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.
But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas' stock-in-trade.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from NetGalley and Ace Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
From what I can see of his previous works, The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a little out of his normal wheelhouse. A lot of what Alexis Hall writes tends to be paranormal romance, which is one of my least favorites genres. Had I known that, I probably would not have requested this one… but! The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is NOT a paranormal romance! This book is a fantasy retelling a la Sherlock Holmes and that is why I requested it and that is certainly what I got.
The writing style in this novel is an absolutely delight, but it has its drawbacks. It’s a sort of tongue-in-cheek style. While I haven’t read anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I do imagine John Watson’s voice being quick similar to Hall’s Mr. Wyndham’s. It’s a quirky, funny sort of voice that makes me chuckle and is right up my alley. Unfortunately, since we’re also being introduced to a vast, confusion, and complicated fantasy world at the same time, the voice was a little too editorialized for me to keep track of everything.
Pacing could have something to do with that as well. This book moves quickly! Aside from the times where Wyndham is talking about propriety or fashion, we’re moving at Shaharazad Haas’ pace, and the sorceress moves fast. Even after having read and digested the book, I confess, I’m still at a bit of a loss as to what happens in places. I had to go back and read the end because there was so much jumping about in the last few chapters that I nearly missed the grand reveal. It’s a cleverly written book with a lot of interesting bits, but it’s a lot. It’s just… a lot.
I wish I could talk a little more in depth about the world building, but The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is such a rollercoaster of a novel that I think I’m a bit dazed. It’s a complicated multiverse, and it becomes clear early on that all the rules will not be explained to the reader simply because Ms. Haas has no desire to pass them on to Mr. Wyndham. This is one of those world building things where I as the reader needed to decide if I was just going to jump on board for the ride and accept everything, or if I was out because the world was “because I said so”.
I was in, though, dear readers.
The voice of this novel amused me enough to carry on even when many things seemed positively pointless.
I think it’s Shaharazad’s character that takes the cake. Mr. Wyndham is an upright citizen as much as his co-inhabitant allows, but I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Haas’ attitude of giving zero f***s and the constant implied eyeroll. Especially in this sort of half-Victorian lady, half-evil sorceress character. Shaharazad Haas was a downright funny character. She pulled the whole thing together and made it all worthwhile, she really did.
At the end of the day, do I recommend this book? The simplest answer is, “I’m not sure”. I’ve got to be honest, it was a bit like riding a T-Rex through Manhattan. It was a mess. But it was also hilariously funny. I think this is the right sort of book for the right sort of person. If you’re not sure if you qualify in this way, I’d suggest pursuing other reviews and weighing your options. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to someone whose personality seems to line right up to this type of storytelling. But it’s not a book I’m going to add to my library. It is, however, a character I’d like to see again, and should there be a sequel, I would most likely indulge.
Are you a fan of witty storytelling? It’s certainly the sort of thing not everyone enjoys. I tend to *really* like it, so if you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments!