When a troll speaks–listen up!
Hardboiled P.I. Alexander Southerland just wants to enjoy a quiet drink when a 500-pound troll walks into the bar. Next thing he knows, Southerland is navigating his way through rogue cops, a gang war, beautiful nymphs from the ocean depths, a were-rat, the mayor’s corrupt fixer, the sleaziest (and cleverest) gnome in Yerba City, and creatures right out of legend. At the center of it all is a mysterious locked box. Can Southerland discover its explosive secret–and survive long enough to pay his rent on time?
I have to be honest and say that I am 99% more likely to read someone’s book if I’ve had a positive interaction with that person. My bar is that low. Similarly, I’ll scratch books from my TBR if the author acts like an asshole. Fortunately for me, Douglas Lumsden is an absolute gent and I just so happen to enjoy urban fantasy from time to time. I’m also a fan of humour in fantasy when it’s done right, so how could I possibly resist a book with a title that’s the beginning of a joke? The stars thus aligned to offer me A Troll Walks into a Bar and it may be one of the best gifts the universe has given.
A Troll Walks into a Bar, then, is an urban fantasy combined with noir and sprinkled with banter and witty humour, though not so much that I drowned in sassy attitudes that so many urban fantasy books can suffer from. The story centres around Alex Southerland, a private eye within Yerba City, a city that feels modern but certainly has an older 1900’s feel about it based on the various offices and chain smoking going around. But what makes Yerba City different from our world is the many fantasy creatures who also make it their home. Now again, so many urban fantasy books stick with the tried and tested fantasy races of Fae, vampires, or werewolves, though in Yerba City you’ll find gnomes, animal-shifters, elemental sprites, water-creatures, and of course the trolls this book is named after. Right from the start, I knew this book was going to be something fresh. Though while the world does feel unique, Southerland’s role as a P.I. means we do break out the standard noir tropes. A beautiful woman comes to Southerland’s office with a case he can’t refuse, even though a literal troll tells him to keep his nose out of it. What great detective wouldn’t stick their nose into obvious danger? Thus begins Southerland’s job as he tries to figure out a case which goes from bad to worse with twists along the way.
I had a lot of fun with this book. The writing is smooth and flows directly from Southerland’s head as he deals with the stress of making rent while trying to crack the case and bring justice the only way he knows how. He’s a hardened character with a heart of gold, though for Southerland, getting beat nearly half to death over a case is all in a day’s work. Though while I enjoyed Southerland’s dry take on his own city, I also enjoyed spending time with the side characters that brought Yerba City to life, especially the hard-ass gnome lawyer and his wife, who Southerland owes many favours. While there are lots of fun, games, and swearing, this book also takes a look at police corruption and inequalities that I also appreciate in my fantasy. On one hand, this book doesn’t take itself that seriously, but on the other, there are some darker scenes that Lumsden doesn’t shy away from. This is noir after all. It can be brutal and gritty.
Though while this is noir, there’s also fantasy elements as well, including the surprising use of elemental summons as part of Southerland’s detective work and also, uh, shape-shifting rats. Lots of rats!
A Troll Walks into a Bar is the start of Southerland’s story in this ongoing series with four sequels and a side-story novella available for eager binge readers. I’ve got these loaded on my Kindle and look forward to seeing where Lumsden and Southerland go next!
Urban fantasy meets noir in this entertaining detective novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously but also doesn’t pull its punches!