I will admit that it was with no little trepidation that I approached Glen Cook’s Cruel Zinc Melodies for review. Melodies is the twelfth book in his long-running fantasy-noir mystery Garrett, P.I. series, a series I am entirely unfamiliar with, and I was worried about being thrust into a tangle of backstories and references and pre-established world-building.
I needn’t have worried. The magic-rife town of TunFaire, home to humans and trolls and dark elves and dirty dames, is always changing, so that even Garrett, a world-weary, lazy gumshoe, must struggle to keep up with it. His case in his twelfth outing is to scout out the World, a new theatre under construction whose workers are being threatened by giant insects and possibly even ghosts. It’s a personal case for Garrett this time — the World is paid for by his ally (and frequent booze supplier) beer baron Max Weider, and one of the actresses lined up for the World’s first theatrical run is none other than Garrett’s longtime squeeze, Tinnie Tate.
Garrett, at first, goes into the gig thinking it’ll be a simple extermination job but finds out that more powerful forces are at play. Glen Cook has a marvellous use of language and style that can convey plenty of information with the humorous, terse sentences of a true noir. Readers afraid of being lost in a world created twelve books ago can be brought up to speed in a paragraph, at the very most.
The one drawback to this book and Cook’s singular style is that his constant stream of patter, slang, and humorous anecdotes never knows when to let up. There is no differentiation in pace or narrative flow between the times when Garrett is chugging beer and trading information with friends and those scenes where Garrett is in significant danger — everything is described with a distanced, sarcastic air which is good for moments of clever investigation but is terrible for action sequences.
Still, Cruel Zinc Melodies has an interesting mystery, intriguing characters, and a truly original fantasy world that melds the magic and decadence of high epic fantasy with the grittier elements of ’40s detective novels. Glen Cook’s writing still has zing after twelve novels, so fans of the series should be well satisfied, and newer readers who enjoy this will have a large backlist to explore.