Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dead Man's Rain (e-novella) by Frank Tuttle

Dead Man's Rain is published by Samhain Publishing and is included in their Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Vampires categories. In my opinion, neither Science Fiction nor Vampires is appropriate. I haven't encountered anything in the Markhat series so far that would lead me to believe this is a science fiction story, and, although vampires are a part of Markhat's world, they're barely even mentioned in this novella.

According to this page, Dead Man's Rain is the second work in Tuttle's Markhat series. However, Tuttle also states that the order of the first three books isn't critical, and I very much agree. Dead Man's Rain makes no references at all to the events of The Mister Trophy and could just as easily be read first.

Those who prefer print books are in luck: The Markhat Files is a paperback book that includes the first three Markhat stories, The Cadaver Client, The Mister Trophy, and Dead Man's Rain.

I haven't been able to find a word count for this novella, so all I can say is that it comes out to 58 pages on my Nook, if you don't count the additional 6 pages of excerpts.

Synopsis:

Markhat is a finder, which, in his world, seems equivalent to being a P.I. Mama Hog approaches him just as he is leaving the funeral of a man he fought beside during the war. One of her clients, the Widow Merlat, needs more help than she can give, and Markhat is the best alternative she's able to offer. The widow is rich, so Markhat agrees to at least listen to what she has to say.

The Widow Merlat believes her dead husband has come back and is now a revenant. She wants Markhat to help her put him to rest. Unfortunately for her, Markhat doesn't believe in revenants. When he is reluctantly convinced to take the case, he does so figuring he'll find a living person bent on scaring the widow. There are some good suspects, too: the three Merlat children are each horrible in different ways, and one of them might have learned that the widow plans to cut them all off from the bulk of the family's money.

Review:

Dead Man's Rain was good, but left me feeling a little unsatisfied. Even if this story didn't reference the events of The Mister Trophy, I at least wanted it to add something to my understanding of Markhat and his world. All I learned, I think, was a little more about Markhat's specialty during the war – he was a dog handler.

The story, taken on its own, was interesting enough. Markhat had a few questions to answer, and I wanted to know the answers as much as he did. What was the Widow Merlat afraid of? Who was trying to scare her? Why would someone try to scare her? Did any of the Merlat children have something to do with the sightings of the widow's dead husband?

The Merlat children, Elizabet, Othur, and Abad, were clear suspects, although Markhat at least considered the possibility that the widow's faithful butler had something to do with the revenant sightings. Elizabet was a snake of a woman – she was used to using her looks to get her way, and she was sure she could wrap Markhat around her finger. Abad, a gambler, was used to the Widow Merlat stepping in and paying his debts. Othur was a junkie who'd probably kill someone for a few coins. There was no shortage of people who'd have taken issue with the widow changing her will.

I was a little surprised at how dismissive Markhat was of the possibility that Ebed, the widow's husband, was a revenant. He kept saying that there was no such thing. Considering how he had previously learned, in The Mister Trophy, that the common knowledge that trolls couldn't do magic was incorrect, you'd think he would have been more open to the idea that the widow really had seen her husband. His repeated insistence that it wasn't possible bugged me.

Another thing that bugged me was the way Mama Hog was used in the story. In both Dead Man's Rain and The Mister Trophy, she had conveniently powerful magic she pushed on Markhat at just the right time. I really hope that a future story reveals she has weaknesses beyond not wanting to do the dangerous and/or physical work herself, or it won't be long before I get tired of her. I also hope that Markhat eventually stops dismissing Mama Hog's hexes as third-rate, since it seems clear that they're anything but and trying to say otherwise makes him look like an idiot.

All in all, despite my complaints, this really wasn't a bad story. I still like Tuttle's writing, I still like Markhat, and I'm still interested in learning more about him and his world. I think Dead Man's Rain might have been more appealing to me if I hadn't read The Mister Trophy

Other Comments:

Someone fell down on the job a little when it came to checking for typos. In one instance, Ebed's name was spelled "Eded." Also, the straps fastened to a horse's bridle are called "reins," not "reigns" - this was misspelled every single time. Yes, I've made this mistake myself, but not in a novella I've sold to people.

Read-alikes:
  • Jhereg (book) by Steven Brust - This is the first book in Brust's Vlad Taltos series (if you want to read them in publication order - in chronological order, Taltos comes first). The main character is a witch-assassin who has taken a job requiring him to kill a man who stole from the House of Jhereg, and kill him in such a way that no one would ever steal from the House again. Those who'd like something else with strong fantasy and mystery elements, plus a side of humor, might want to try this. 
  • Storm Front (book) by Jim Butcher - This is the first book in Butcher's Dresden Files series. The main character, Harry Dresden, is a professional wizard. He's basically a hard boiled private eye with magical abilities. In this book, he helps the police investigate gruesome murders in which the victims' hearts have exploded inside their chests.
  • Guards! Guards! (book) by Terry Pratchett - Something about Markhat's world made me think of it as a darker version of Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Those who'd like something else set in a city housing a variety of human and nonhumans might want to try this, which I think is one of the first books to deal with Sam Vimes and Ankh-Morpork's City Watch in any detail. The book combines, fantasy and humor, plus, if I remember correctly, a bit of investigative work on Vimes' part.
  • Stardust (book) by Neil Gaiman - The horrible Merlat children reminded me a lot of the brothers in this fantasy novel. Family ties mean nothing to any of them, beyond whatever benefits they might gain from them.

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