2018’s The Barrow Will Send What It May is the second entry in Margaret Killjoy’s Danielle Cain series.
Danielle and her new chums Brynne, Doomsday, Vulture, and Thursday survived the events in The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, the previous book in the series. However, they find themselves suspected of causing (rather than surviving) the pile of dead police in the town of Lamb. Rather than try to convince skeptical detectives that the dead cops were slain by a demon, the quintet have hit the road. Perhaps they can become itinerant demon-hunters?
America’s great highway network will whisk them away from suspicion. It’s a fine plan. Too bad Danielle manages to total the car near Pendleton, Montana.
The first hint that something might be a little off about Pendleton is Gertrude, the woman who offers the group a ride. She looks conventional; she says that God wanted her to help. So, church lady. Then she comments that she recently spent six months dead.
Gertrude connects the party with rogue librarians Vasilis and Heather. Vasilis and Heather run a wildcat public library, filling a niche the local government declines to fill. They have an interesting story to tell.
Fellow librarians Damon and Isola disappeared while on a mad expedition with their occult-minded pal Loki. They planned to kill a bear, then raise it from the dead with spells from the Book of Barrow. Nobody was surprised when the trio vanished. But then … Isola returned, too traumatized to tell anyone what happened.
Gertrude’s reappearance was even more unexpected, because whereas Isola was merely missing, Gertrude had been really most sincerely dead.
It’s a necromantic mystery, a fine conundrum for the five travelers’ second case. Who, What, Where, When, Why and How are all easy to answer. The necromancer is Gertrude’s husband Sebastian. He missed his wife.
Sebastian doesn’t take it kindly that five perfect strangers dare to interfere with him. It’s time for more murder and magic.
A number of people have compared this book to the TV series Scooby-doo. The similarities are superficial at best. Our travelers, like Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy, are itinerant unofficial occult investigators, But Danielle’s pals are much older than the Scooby Gang, and far more unconventional. There’s no talking animal. Which, given how the occult tends to manifest in this world, is for the best.
It seems odd that when the library was defunded, the books inside it were not then sent to another public library. Surely there are at least two libraries in Montana? Or a sports team that could benefit from a used book sale? Pendleton appears to have simply shuttered their building without removing anything. This seems … unlikely.
This is a more straightforward fantasy than Lamb. Lamb had a political dimension; it was about a town of steadfast anarchists. Nothing like that here.
Also, this book is less of an engaging mystery. What is happening and why become clear almost as soon as the gang hits the city limits. Then it’s a race to see whether they can deal with Sebastian before he deals with them. On its own, this would have been an acceptable read, but it falls short of the first book.
Still … the author’s prose is skillful enough and Danielle’s romantic dithering is entertaining.