Melissa Scott’s 2014 Fair’s Point is the fourth volume in her on-going Astreiant series.
When aristocrat Dandin de Calior went bankrupt, the debacle extended to his creditors. Protagonist Philip Eslingen lost a goodly sum and ended up with … a dog (his share of de Calior’s assets).
Rather than sell the basket-terrier, Eslingen decides to enter it in the dog races. He hires a well-regarded dog trainer, Besetje Quentier, and hopes to recoup his losses.
Besetje, and the dog-training plan, run into difficulties when Besetje is suspected of involvement in a string of mysterious robberies. She comes from a family of pickpockets, so of course she’s suspected when silver starts vanishing from securely locked strongboxes. Besetje didn’t do it … but who did?
Eslingen’s lover, pointsman (policeman) Nico Rathe, faces other challenges: mysterious deaths. Poirel and Beier were both connected to the dog-racing world, Poirel as a dog handler and Beier as a scurrilous pamphleteer. Both are found dead, pierced by silver coins.
Something, clearly, is up. Whether Nico and Eslingen are able to work out what that something is in time to balk the player on the other side is much less clear.
The timeline for this series seems rather compressed. If I have not lost track of what happens when, the entire series to date has only covered a few months. Will the characters look back on this period with wonder at its madcap chaos, or is this going to be the new normal from now on?
Points to the author for making competitive dog racing interesting, which isn’t the way I would have bet.
Astreiant possesses rudimentary institutions (rudimentary by our standards); its rudimentary police force, for example, recalls Peel’s early efforts. Yet even as inchoate as they are, the institutions (established and new) evince an impressive capacity for obstructing each other while protecting their own territories. It’s a note of realism in the series: even secondary universes (with magic!) have organizations that focus more on self-aggrandizement than on their ostensible purpose.
Mysteries have at their hearts human motivations. One might therefore expect interpersonal relationships to play vital roles in mysteries; this is often, but not always the case. In Fairs Point, personal connections are vital to the plot. Nico is carrying on a romance with the somewhat shady Eslingen; Eslingen is helping Besetje stay out of a family business to which she is profoundly unsuited.
Scott successfully builds on the foundations established by previous works in this series. Fans of the Astreiant series will be pleased.