Dead Man in the Ditch by Luke Arnold
After falling in love with Sunder City (which I reviewed here), I was looking forward to the continuation of the series. After just seven months, which feels like four weeks and two decades simultaneously, the second instalment in the Fetch Phillips Archives is just around the corner. When I was opening the ARC, kindly provided by Little, Brown Book Group and NetGalley, my first thought was: "Please be good!"
It's always a bit tricky to review the subsequent books without spoiling not only what's happening in the current chapter of Fetch's quest for redemption, but also the one before.
Let's start with the blurb:
"The name's Fetch Phillips — what do you need?
Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.
Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I'll give it a shot.
Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband's murderer? That's right up my alley.
What I don't do, because it's impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back.
Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world.
But there's no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder."
Sunder City hasn't changed much since we left it - there is no magic, and still no heating. Fetch continues to be stubbornness incarnate, existing on alcohol and painkillers, odd jobs, and sapping any remnants of hope from anyone who asks him for help in finding any possible traces of magic still alive.
Dead Man has significantly more action than the Last Smile - Fetch moves from one investigation to another. Along the way, he gets into a fair amount of troubles of varying nature and severity. There is, however, an underlying theme, which is deeply rooted in the changes in societal dynamics caused by world-impacting events and human nature.
I could talk a lot about the worldbuilding, author's social observation acuity, or if the portrayal of Fetch as a guilt-ridden wreck of a man with chronic pain is believable. What I want to touch on, however, is how Luke Arnold plays with and on emotions.
There wasn't much of hope during the events described in the Last Smile, but as time goes by, people are trying desperately to find a glimpse of hope to hold onto. In a way, Dead Man is a study of sorts about how dangerous hope can be and how far a man can go to seek for miracles. And this doesn't only apply to Fetch.
There was a particular moment in the story when a ghost from Fetch's past reemerged, and you may start to question whether the protagonist's reaction was convincing.
At a glance, it feels as if Fetch gave up the control way too easily. But how wearied Fetch must've been: every corner of the city feeding his remorse for years, every day him waking up and trying to do the right thing. Or do anything, at that.
When you're at that stage of exhaustion, and someone shows up to take the burden of decisionmaking from you, the relief is indescribably irresistible. Trust me, I know.
There was also a very subtle scene, playing on deeply hidden sentiments towards oneself, where, yet again, I realised how close I could relate to Fetch. To avoid any spoilers, I will only say "rabbit".
I also need to mention the evolution of the narrative. Although both books were written in close succession, it is very noticeable how Luke's writing has matured between them. The world has expanded, the connections between the characters deepened, and the juxtapositions are razor sharp and cut deep.
The trolls still haven't moved, but there may be some miraculous sparks of hope in this unforgiving world for all of us.
-----Dead Man in the Ditch on Goodreads