Alexis Hall’s 2019 The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a standalone fantasy mystery.
Wounded in the war against the Empress of Nothing, Captain John Wyndham returns not to Ey, the straitlaced home of his youth, but to his college town, the cosmopolitan city of Kelathra-Ven. Despite years spent away at the front, John is at heart still a small-town boy.
He ends up rooming with the flamboyantly decadent sorcerer(ess) Shaharazad Haas. Haas appreciates Wyndham for his placid toleration of Haas’ eccentricities.
Haas has the skills to be a problem-solver supreme (but only if convinced that the solving the issue would be diverting). At first disinclined to take an interest in the matter of Miss Eirene Viola, Haas eventually relents. Viola is one of Haas’ many ex-lovers.
Viola, once a colourful rogue, has resolved to embrace both respectability and the person of Cora Beck. The wedding approaches. Viola receives letters threatening to Reveal All to Beck. Viola has quite a lot of All to Reveal, much of which she has not shared with Beck.
Are there suspects? Ever so many. Viola’s former tastes ran to the powerful, deranged, and vindictive. Haas is delighted; eliminating the suspects one by one is a sovereign remedy for boredom. The hunt for the letter-writer is less pleasant for Wyndham, who finds himself dealing with vampires, deranged revolutionaries, and punchable sharks.
Readers who like books with ample LGBTQ+ representation might want to consider this book, whose cast is, as the kids say today, “queer as fuck.” The cast is also over-the-top unconventional. The straight man (in all senses) is the book’s narrator. Poor Wyndham wouldn’t recognize a pass even if the suitor in question had their tongue in his…let’s say “ear.” But the text is not as licentious as one might expect. After all, it’s narrated by Wyndham, who is always circumspect in his phrasing.
As soon as Wyndham mentions singing “Alas! Must I In Torments Dwell?” as a childhood hymn, I had a sense that Mysterious Letter might not be entirely serious. The remainder of the book confirmed my suspicion. If you think you might enjoy a comic pastiche of Holmes and Watson in a cosmic horror universe reminiscent of Graydon Saunders’ Commonweal books, this might be the book for you.