New Book Review 21: Murder in Absentia

murder-in-absentiaThe next book I’ll review is Assaph Mehr’s novel Murder in Absentia. This book is a mystery set a fantasy world modeled very closely on the real-world Roman Empire, with the addition of mythological beasts and magic to add Fantasy to the book’s genre. It’s the first of the series Felix the Fox, named for the protagonist. As this book was of exceptional quality, I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

Felix the Fox, as he is professionally known, is a detective. He’s trained in the past as a soldier and as an incantator (the equivalent to a wizard in this world), but his profession is solving cases for high-profile citizens of Egretia, the quasi-Roman society of this book. When the son of a wealthy and influential merchant dies under strange and supernatural circumstances, Felix takes a contract to discover the cause of the young man’s death. This investigation brings Felix into the midst of a dangerous conspiracy of wicked incantatores in which any mistake could cost him his life. Despite his exotic setting Felix is not so different from other detective characters I’ve read. He’s intelligent and resourceful, he’s very disciplined about his work, and he has his own set of insecurities and vices. The supporting characters include his nearly-mad friend and informant Abraxus, the tough barbarian Borax who serves as his bodyguard, his cheeky housekeeper Dascha, and the various soldiers, incantatores, prostitutes, and other residents of Egretia who help or hinder him on his search. Most of these characters were conveyed very well, though I was a little disappointed that there weren’t a lot of female characters serving a purpose beyond romance or sex (Dascha being the exception).

The strongest aspect of the story was its setting. As I’ve said, Egretia is a fantasy version of Rome, and the writing makes it clear that the author worked carefully to keep his details authentic. We’re used to seeing fantasy novels modeled on a modern misunderstanding of the Middle Ages (my own work is done this way, I’m afraid), but this setting was something different. It was extremely detailed, from the social ranks of the characters to the military techniques of the nation to the way food is prepared. No detail was overlooked, and this made the setting incredibly rich and immersive. The flip side to this is that on occasion the details were excessive. I personally found them interesting, but they didn’t always advance the story. The fantasy side of this, the way magic works in this fictional world, was also meticulously detailed and specific. It relied closely on priestly rituals like the real Rome had rather than the wand-waving staff-wielding spectacle we’ve come to expect from 21st-century fantasy. This felt consistent with the setting, and was nicely believable.

There was only one place where this magic technique deviated, and this deviation is one of the book’s weaknesses. I don’t want to say much on it to avoid spoilers, but in the book’s climax the magic style changes for the more modern and more spectacle-driven, and I don’t think the change was necessary. I’d rather it kept the magic consistent throughout. This wasn’t the only issue I had with the climax. I also felt that it came a bit too suddenly, involving some major plot points that hadn’t had much lead-up prior to it. But, the book was of such high caliber that I’m not too bothered by this.

Fans of historical fiction will appreciate this book for its meticulous setting, fans of detective fiction will enjoy the carefully crafted mystery of the work, and fans of fantasy such as myself can take pleasure from this book’s new and unique type of fantasy world. With all of these styles working together so effectively, Murder in Absentia was a new type of reading experience for me, and I highly recommend it.

Now as always, my bit of promo. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here: New Book Review 1New Book Review 2New Book Review 3New Book Review 4New Book Review 5New Book Review 6New Book Review 7New Book Review 8New Book Review 9New Book Review 10New Book Review 11New Book Review 12New Book Review 13New Book Review 14New Book Review 15New Book Review 16New Book Review 17New Book Review 18New Book Review 19New Book Review 20

If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.

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