Melissa Scott’s Point of Knives is set at a time between that of Point of Hopes and that of Point of Dreams , the first and second instalments of the Astreiant series. Since my site does not do fractions or decimals, numbering Point of Knives is a bit tricky. So I will not even try.
Adjunct Point Nicolas Rathe is called from his bed to attend to a murder. Rathe soon discovers that there were two murders: both Grandad Steen and his son Old Steen were mortally injured, although by someone inept enough that dying Old Steen tried to run to safety.
The motive for some murders is obscure. In Grandad Steen’s case, the motive seems clear: treasure.
In his youth Grandad Steen was a summer-sailor or to put it less politely, a pirate. He was successful. Successful pirates amass hoards and Grandad Steen appears to been no exception.
Thanks to Astreiant’s currency control laws, turning stolen gold into folding money is illegal and thus tricky. You’ve got to trust the person buying the gold. If you’re mistaken in your trust, that person may simply stab you and grab the gold. It appears that this is just what happened to Grandad Steen.
Steen’s would be business partner was one Caiazzo, which makes Caiazzo and whoever was handling the transaction for him high on the suspect list. This presents a problem for Rathe, since the intermediary was Philip Eslingen, of whom Rathe is more than a little fond. Eslingen makes a convincing case that he isn’t the killer (if nothing else, he would have disposed of the bodies more competently than the actual killer did). Rathe believes him. Now Rathe needs to find the actual killer in order to exonerate Eslingen.
It does not take long for more suspects to make an appearance. The only problem is, they fall into two overlapping sets: suspicious characters against whom no concrete proof can be found and suspicious characters too well connected to arrest even if there were proof.
This week’s theme seems to be “wildly corrupt legal systems.” In Astreiant’s case, there are no meddling gods as such (although magic plays a role). However, Astreiant is but a few generations removed from a time of chaos. Today’s aristocrats are descended from yesterday’s bandits. The rule of law is ascendant, but people do remember that cheating is an option. So is kicking the table over if you don’t like the results of the game.
If you’re familiar with the series, you can make an educated guess that the protagonist’s sweetheart isn’t going to end up in prison, whatever the black hats do. The question isn’t whether or not Eslingen will escape jeopardy; it’s how. That was enough of a hook to keep me reading.
In some fantasy police procedural mysteries, the magic is there merely to flavour the setting. In this, the fantasy, magic is something that has to be taken into account during the investigation. Gold has certain magical properties that may be relevant to the case. They may not be, but they must at least be checked out.
This was a perfectly acceptable fantasy police procedural, although perhaps a bit more rushed than I’d have liked. But … it’s a novella. If I wanted it to have been longer, that suggests that it’s a good read.