Dead Man in a Ditch

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Following on from The Last Smile In Sunder City, private detective Fetch Phillips continues to navigate the turbulent post-magical era known as ‘the Coda’. This time he must make sense of a brazen murder in a human-only bar that can only have been inflicted by supposedly impossible means – a point-blank fireball to the face.

The Last Smile had an instantly likeable style, cribbing from Terry Pratchett and Raymond Chandler, but transcending pastiche. Occasionally it laboured its scene-setting and backstory enough that the pace dragged – probably a common pitfall in fantasy debuts. Arnold has no such problem here. Even as he reveals dozens of imaginative new locations and characters, and ties up many of the most intriguing loose ends from the first book, he keeps the action going at a confident, rapid clip.

We got to know the squalid, sprawling Sunder City pretty well in the first book, but a flurry of new cases takes Fetch into surprising new corners of town, including the daunting gambling district The Sickle, a defunct ceramics factory and a swanky hat shop. Fetch even finds himself travelling beyond city limits for the first time, leading to enjoyable widescreen glimpses of the greater Archetellos continent.

Without giving away the elaborate final third of the book, there’s nothing timid about Arnold’s plotting – no sense that he wants to tidy up and simply reset the stage for another stock mystery next time around. When we visit Sunder City again, it may be a very different place, but still home to the lovably glum ‘man for fire’ Fetch – and still a delight to spend time in.

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