March 18 is my birthday and as a birthday present to myself, I am going to be enormously self-indulgent and review Harry Connolly’s A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark . Not just because it’s a pacifist urban fantasy, although it is (and that’s quite remarkable all on its own), but because I am mentioned in the acknowledgments.
What the unlovable Aloysius Pierce wants from his eccentric, wealthy aunt Marley Jacobs is the benefit of her occult knowledge in the form of something he calls “a love potion” and Marley a “rape potion.” Aloysius doesn’t get his potion, but what he does get is a moment of self-awareness that sends him from his aunt’s home on a journey of self-recrimination and attempted redemption.
The next day, Marley learns that Aloysius has been found dead, his throat cut, lying on a storm sewer grate. Rather alarmingly, the police have decided that the most likely suspect is Marley’s assistant Jenny, the woman Aloysius was stalking. Having tossed Jenny into a cell, the police have no interest in pursuing other lines of investigation, particularly not the lines of investigation that occur to Marley.
Obviously Jenny isn’t going to be much help in the investigation, but Aloysius’ half-brother Albert is couch-surfing at his aunt’s while he looks for a job suitable for a veteran missing half his hand. While Albert didn’t much care for his half-brother — because basically nobody cared for Aloysius — Aloysius was his brother. More to the point, if his elderly aunt to going to start looking for a killer, it might be a good idea for her to have a large, burly body-guard.
Except … as Albert soon learns, his half-brother’s death has all the earmarks of a vampire attack, his aunt is eyeballs deep in an occult world filled with vampires, werewolves, and ghosts … not to mention the dragon, If anyone needs protecting, it’s the naïve and inexperienced Albert.
Readers who are expecting something like Connolly’s 20 Palaces books should be warned that Marley isn’t an older Annalise and Albert certainly isn’t Ray Lilly. Marley has done the violent-solution-to-all problems thing and has decided that it just does not work. Not only did it leave her victim to a very annoying curse, it doesn’t seem to have actually solved the problem. Now she looks for peaceful solutions, such as finding retirement homes for increasingly befuddled vampires or talking monster-hunters out of a life of serial killing. In the past she might have uncorked something unsubtle like a fireball or a potion; now she prefers to use reason and what a colleague a few fictional universes over would call “headology” Oh, and money; Marley is certainly willing to throw her impressive financial resources at problems to make them go away
I can assure y’all that long before I got to
Finally, I’d like to thank Hugo-nominated critic and reviewer James Davis Nicoll. Because of a casual joke on his LiveJournal years ago (which he probably doesn’t even remember), this book has a villain and a climactic scene. Thank you.
I saw where Connolly was going with his plot. However, despite spending a fair amount of time looking for the Livejournal entry that inspired him, I failed to find it. I will give one hint as to what this casual joke might have been: everyone has had to deal with the kind of problems caused by this kind of megalomaniac and it is totally believable that one such megalomaniac would go to the lengths this one does in pursuit of professional goals.
A Key, an Egg, An Unfortunate Remark can be purchased here.