Book Reviews

Review: Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

I’ve just discovered this review languishing in my drafts, oh no! But don’t take my long silence as anything but a mistake – this book deserves shouting about!

Book: Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Publication date: 24th September 2020

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Orbit Books. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: Violence, injury and death; torture; slavery.

A former soldier turned PI solves crime in a world that’s lost its magic in this brilliant sequel to actor Luke Arnold’s debut The Last Smile in Sunder City.

The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need?

Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.

Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it a shot.

Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.

What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back.

Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world.

But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder.

Fetch Philips is back, and Sunder City is still a dark, decaying, crime-ridden place – and I love it. If you need a refresher on how much I adored the first book in this series, The Last Smile in Sunder City, you can head back and check out my ten-out-of-five review! In this second book, there’s a brand new mystery, but the same amazing blend of urban and high fantasy, the same fabulous noir voice, and the same fantastically complex protagonist. I’m blown away by how well all the disparate elements work together to make such a cohesive world that’s so fully realised – it feels so immersive and realistic.

I mentioned in my previous review that I’m not someone who reads a lot of gritty fantasy, because I find it a bit bleak to have a world where everything’s rubbish all the time, and I really enjoy how Fetch’s story skirts getting that grimdark by making sure there’s still humour and goodness in the world – sort of. I think it also helps that this book has more action than the first, and some really fabulous scenes that are so vivid and dramatic in their style that they feel cinematic. There are plenty of new shady characters to side-eye, and shades of a more episodic style that feels very classic for a PI, but everything ends up tying together until Fetch has significantly bigger problems than he thought – and so might the world. I thought this was a great balance between heightening the stakes and allowing the world to progress, and keeping that theme of making the world better one small action at a time.

I can’t talk about the thing I really want to talk about here because of spoilers, but one part of this book in particular broke my heart. Something happens that was totally unexpected, though it makes perfect sense in context, and while I’m devastated for the impact this will have on Fetch, I really admire the move from a narrative perspective as it shakes up the future in a brilliant way. I’m sad on a personal level but on a craft level, I’m impressed. And all of this is so vague as to be unhelpful if you haven’t read the book, I know! But if you read this and want to commiserate with me, please do. It’s just so ballsy.

Essentially, I adore this series, and I’m desperate for book three, which I think is planned for April 2022. I don’t know how I’m going to wait until then! Five out of five cats!

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