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Mercedes Lackey: Four & Twenty Blackbirds
Fantasy, Police Procedural Mix Never Quite Gels

  Crescent Blues Book Views

Mercedes Lackey always fools me. The first chapter of Four & Twenty Blackbirds builds a picture of Constable Tal Rufen's everyday life so bleak and depressing that even a spectacular murder can't pick up the pace. At that point, I reminded myself that Lackey always delivers a good tale and resumed reading. For the most part, I'm glad I did.

Available today from Amazon.comLackey's Bardic Voices series has more in common with edgy police procedurals than her other fantasy novels. In Four & Twenty Blackbirds, the fourth book in the series, Rufen knows that there's a vicious murderer working his patch, and he wants to track the killer down. His superiors can't be bothered -- after all, the victims aren't of the class of people they were hired to protect. Or is something else going on?

Rufen persists, investigating on his days off, until he has sufficient proof and a sense of urgency that won't quit. Desperate, he risks reputation and livelihood to find an official important enough to help him investigate further.

Four & Twenty Blackbirds is one of those mysteries that had me yelling as I read. The characters withhold information from each other until -- purely by luck -- one of them discovers it from another source. They come nose to nose with vital information and never know until the last moment that it's an important clue. Worse yet, sometimes they never realize it's a clue at all.

The problem appears to lie in the book's uneasy combination of fantasy and police procedural. In Four & Twenty Blackbirds, the two genres never quite mesh into a satisfying whole. It's almost as if Rufen's careful policework is written to fail so that Lackey can dust off a pre-set number of magical mystery detection devices. Yet I would've enjoyed the story just as much if Rufen and his colleagues solved the case through conventional means.

Relying on fantasy does make for a spectacular climax, however. It also gives the murderer the upper hand throughout the book, and he knows it. When the results of Rufen's investigation finally back the murderer to the proverbial wall, the murderer sets the stage for a taut, tense showdown that makes you glad you stuck with the book after all.

But when the magic settles and lets you breathe again, you realize you've spent nearly 400 pages in the company of a murderer, and you still don't know very much about him. Everybody in the book speculates about the murderer's motives and desires, but Lackey never satisfies her readers' or her characters' curiosity. The murderer never explains his motives.

As a fantasy novel, Four & Twenty Blackbirds doesn't build much on what Lackey created in the first three novels of the series. It does explore in a limited manner sociological problems resulting from human and non-human interaction. But it left me wondering where Lackey is going with the Bardic Voices series. Is it supposed to be more than a handful of good tales?

Suzanne Frisbee

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