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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/10/2004 Archived Entry: "Book Review: Dragon Precinct"

Dragon Precinct
by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Publisher: Pocket Star

Review by Kathryn L. Ramage

Dungeons and Dragnetů

A warrior, an elf, a dwarf, a barbarian, a priest, and two halflings stop for the night at a seedy inn in the city of Cliff's End. Typical quest, or set-up for an elaborate Tolkien-geek joke? Keith R.A. DeCandido's fantasy-oriented detective novel, Dragon Precinct, tends toward the latter. First, the warrior is murdered at the inn under mysterious circumstances. Then the elf is killed in the same way. Cliff's End Castle Guard detectives Torin ben Wyvald and half-elven Danthres Tresyllione are called in to investigate the case.

While DeCandido's story is set in a fantasy world that seems like a composite of every Tolkienesque pastiche written in the past 50 years-or played out with a 12-sided die-underneath it all is a hard-boiled crime drama. Tresyllione and ben Wyvald conduct their investigation against a backdrop of familiar police-story cliches: a nagging superior officer who tries to control his loose-cannon detectives, pressure from higher-up to solve the case quickly, and the requisite visits to brothels, bars, and other assorted, sordid dives. There is even a romantic history and some sexual tension between the male and female detectives.

As a take-off of the standard crime drama, Dragon Precinct succeeds nicely. Dressed in sword-and-sorcery trappings, the cliches of the genre are given a fresh twist. The two detectives work to solve the mysterious murders with grim seriousness-but since their case involves rounding up the usual elves for questioning, an encounter with a hobgoblin, and one of the prime suspects a wizard who doesn't seem to stay dead, it's difficult for the reader take the matter as seriously. The story is often very funny, skirting the edge of parody without crossing over into the completely ridiculous. The solution to the mystery is interesting, and not something I anticipated, having been effectively distracted by two separate red herrings.

Where the novel doesn't work as well for me is in the fantasy element beyond the set-up for jokes. My chief disappointment lies in the initial premise; the characters listed above seems rife with possibilities that are never fully explored. Granted, one of these characters is already dead as the story begins, but there are opportunities to do something more with the others in the course of the investigation that are missed. For example, we are told that after the first murder, Tresyllione and ben Wyvald interview the rest of the travelling companions, but only one of these conversations is shown; one or two others members of the party appear later on, but for the most part they are never fully developed as either characters or objects of parody, and their part in the story-and in the mystery-seems lacking because of it.

Depth of characterization is reserved for the two detectives. We are given a lot of background detail on ben Wyvald's and Tresyllione's mutual and independent pasts. Their previous cases are frequently alluded to, as if this particular mystery were only the last in a series-and as if we can expect to see more of these two and their investigations into the various murders and mayhem of Cliff's End in the future. In spite of my disappointment with some parts of this novel, I would like to see more stories in this same setting.

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