Charles de Lint,
The Road to Lisdoonvarna
(Subterranean Press, 2001)

There's no magic. There are no characters abroad in our realm from the Faerielands. There are no shapeshifters, animal spirits or living computers. But The Road to Lisdoonvarna, a recently released rewrite of an unpublished novel first written in the mid-1980s, is instantly engrossing all the same.

Lisdoonvarna is not one of Charles de Lint's wildly popular mythic fantasies, nor is the tale set in Newford, the author's fictional, magic-filled city. De Lint is back to his old stomping grounds, Ottawa, for a straightforward mystery novel; it was, he says in his introduction, something of an experiment to see if he could switch genres and still write a good book.

This publication should settle that question once and for all. Lisdoonvarna is a solid tale, brimming with strong characters and an action-filled plot which will keep you turning those pages to the all-too-soon conclusion.

This is by no stretch a whodunnit -- the primary villain, at least, is identified fairly early in the plot, although the involvement of others remains a question 'til the end. But the action, to say nothing of the excellent character development, is certainly sufficient to keep this book exciting.

Jake Swann is a private investigator, heavy-handed but soft-hearted. His case seems simple enough: find a teen-age runaway who fled Toronto to disappear into Ottawa's small but flourishing punk scene. But then Jake's good friend Sammy Ward, a cheerful young Irish fiddler, is brutally raped and beaten, and it looks like the police are involved -- including, perhaps, the one man on the force Jake thought he could trust. Of course, the missing person and the criminal cops may be related, and someone with a lot of hired muscle is taking a dim view of Jake's investigations. Fortunately, Jake has Jimmy Crackle and Bo Jeffries on his side, and it's hard to imagine a more loyal pair of friends to cover your back and get the job done.

Named for a popular Irish jig and referencing a major music festival held each year in the village in County Clare, the book proves de Lint's ability to switch genres and still tell a good tale. He never loses his voice in this book, so I never forgot whose words I was reading -- and yet, oddly, I never really missed the touches of magic so common in de Lint's stories, so engrossing is the plot and so intriguing are the characters. While I hope de Lint never abandons his magical world entirely, I would certainly enjoy reading more from him in this vein, as well as the horror genre he touched on so briefly in his trilogy of Samuel M. Key novels and a few early books such as Mulengro.

De Lint fans should certainly give Lisdoonvarna their attention. It's nice to see his talents extend beyond the focus we've come to know and love so well.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 15 September 2001

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