At the end of February I finished Sweet Silver Blues by Glen Cook. It was first published in 1987 with cover art by Tim Hildebrandt. The novel is the first in the Garrett, P.I. series. I have read Cook before and enjoyed the read. This novel is everything one would expect in 1987, which was surprisingly comfortable and familiar to me as I read. I kept thinking to myself, “well, we will never see novels like this again” and “boy, this feels like the 80s.” I am not saying this is good or bad, I am just sharing that this is very much of its time.
True to his writing style in other novels, Cook is spare in the details. He keeps the whole story flying along by use of bantering conversation. He does not write out every step of the way for the reader – he does expect the reader to fill in the gaps and surmise what has happened in the interval. I do not feel this is really done nowadays in current fantasy. I feel like now everyone details every step, every moment, lest the reader get lost or separated from the characters as, say, they march from a pier to a tavern. On occasion, the spare writing and the action-stylings makes it difficult to follow what specifically is happening – but it does not really matter what the specifics are.
The expected 80s fantasy tropes are present and fun. Taverns and bars and a variety of fantasy species. There is a super fun thread between two characters related to health/diet and food. Its totally amusing and runs the length of the book; a subtle way to get the reader to engage with the characters without forcing them upon us.
I went to see my major right after I breakfasted, three eggs gently fried in the grease of a half pound of bacon slowly cooked to a crisp, a mountain of griddle cakes on the side, heavily buttered and buried in strawberry jam. Morley was despondent. He began holding a wake for my health. – pg. 128, chapter 27
The main character, Garrett, is a private investigator of sorts, probably a pre-cursor to the Harry Dresdens, Ishmael Jones, and Alex Verus of the now-world. Garrett is ex-military (he is no fan of the military or the never-ending war that he had to attend) and he now runs a shop in TunFaire. He drinks a lot, does odd jobs, and knows a lot of strange characters. We do not get much of Garrett’s background whatsoever, which is fine. I have gotten very weary of the long stories of a tormented background that somehow are the reason for whatever the character is currently. Garrett is awoken one morning by the Tate family, a family of gnomes. The Tates have run into a sort of legal issue with one of their members being recently deceased and having a fortune in precious metal.
Its true: an inheritance case among gnomes does not sound all that interesting. The interesting part comes from the travel-adventure and the other, criminal, parties that are interested in the fortune in question.
There are a number of parties interested, too. Most of them with criminal, malicious intent. There is also a sidestory that creeps about with Morley and his business intentions. Most of these threads, to be honest, get tangled and lost. I am not sure that the plot makes sense to the degree that it should or was written capably enough to produce the plot. At the end of the day, though, the story is a fantasy adventure and it seems like it all works out in the end.
Interestingly, there are a number of species of creatures that we do not see much in fantasy any more. For example, I do not know the last time I read a book with a centaur in it. There is also a Loghyr, which is a very strange character that in this novel is playing the rôle exactly of Nero Wolfe. Garrett might borrow a bit from Archie Goodwin whenever he meets the Loghyr for a consultation. I probably added a star to my rating just because this element of the story amuses me.
The best thing about the story, maybe, is that the vampires in it are bad. Not just bad vampires, but bad creatures. There is nothing romantic, sparkly, or intriguing about them whatsoever. Thank you, 80s.
There are enough fun things to make this series something I would continue reading. Especially since, currently, I am reading adventure, action, pulpy things. Garrett is interesting enough to read onward and the world populated by unicorns, vampires, and gnomes is different enough from the typical farm-boy progressions with elves and dwarves. I also like how the entire book is sloshed in beer, food, and mayhem. Truthfully, the banter does display a very, let us say, male perspective, so the book is probably geared toward a male audience. This sort of writing does not go over too well in 2023, I think. But the 80s were a blast and people should ingest this novel as the junk food that it is.