One of my favorite books growing up was an anthology of Randall Garrett’s “Lord Darcy” stories. I enjoyed the blend of murder and magic, and they helped transition me from Agatha Christie to sci-fi and fantasy.
Marshall Ryan Maresca’s new novel, A Murder of Mages, evokes the same feelings those “Lord Darcy” tales did so long ago.
Set in Maresca’s storybook sandbox, the sprawling city of Maradaine, the novel is a police procedural following a pair of constables as they investigate the ritual murder of a mage from one of the city’s powerful “circles.”
Satrine Rainey is a former spy and the wife of a former constable, crippled after his last case went wrong. Denied a living wage from his pension, Satrine lies her way onto the Maradaine Constabulary and is partnered with Minox “Jinx” Welling, an erratic, uncircled mage whose partners have a tendency to die in the line of duty.
The pair’s first case cuts uncomfortably close for both of them, as it takes Satrine back to the slums where she grew up, and face to face with a bully who tormented her as a child, now an aging prostitute with a bevy of street urchin children. And Minox is having trouble facing up to his own outcast position in the magical community, unwelcome by the guild-like circles and unable to obtain the training to control his burgeoning powers.
Meanwhile the bodies are starting to pile up, in what appears to be the beginning of a magical war. Or the work of a serial killer.
The pair’s secrets start to slip as Minox befriends another uncircled mage and a government official exposes Satrine’s deception. And Minox isn’t convinced by the official story of Satrine’s husband’s accident, but that’s going to be another adventure.
There’s nothing revolutionary about A Murder of Mages, but it is a brisk, entertaining murder mystery filled with snarky detectives, harried lawyers and streetwise toughs. Fans of Law and Order and the aforementioned Agatha Christie will recognize all the tropes, as well as the twist ending.
What makes A Murder of Mages so much fun is Maresca’s meticulous worldbuilding. Inspired by 19th century London, Maradaine is a big world filled with many stories waiting to be told. Indeed, A Murder of Mages, is Maresca’s second Maradaine tale this year, following the unrelated YA story, The Thorn of Dentonhill. The events in Thorn are briefly mentioned in Murder, but there is no crossover between the stories.
Both are laying the grounds for long-running series, however, and I’m sure Maresca has even more characters to explore within the crowded streets and crumbling slums of Maradaine. ~~ Michael Senft
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