Dead Man’s Rain and The Mister Trophy by Frank Tuttle – review

Rating: 9/10 ★★★★★★★★★☆ Title: Dead Man’s Rain and The Mister Trophy
Author: Frank Tuttle
Genre: Fantasy crime noir 🙂
URL: Samhain Publishing
Price: Dead Man’s Rain – US$3.50, The Mister Trophy – US$2.50
Other Information/warnings:Violence
Summary [from the publisher]:
Dead Man’s Rain
Can a haunted man help the dead find peace?
Markhat is a Finder, charged with the post-war task of tracking down sons and fathers gone suddenly missing when an outbreak of peace left the army abandoned where they stood. But now it’s ten years on after the war, and about all he’s finding is trouble.

This time, trouble comes in the form of a rich widow with a problem. Her dearly departed husband, Ebed Merlat, keeps ambling back from the grave for nocturnal visits. Markhat saw a lot during the war, but he’s never seen anyone, rich or poor, rise from the grave and go tromping around the landscape. But for the right price, he’s willing to look into it.
As a storm gathers and night falls, Markhat finds darker things than even murder lurk amid the shadows of House Merlat.

The Mister Trophy
All the finder Markhat wanted was a beer at Eddie’s. Instead he gets a case that will bring him face to fang with crazed, blood-craving halfdead, a trio of vengeful Troll warriors, and Mama Hog’s backstreet magic. Plus, the possible resurgence of the Troll War.
All right in his own none-too-quiet neighborhood.
Through the town of Rannit’s narrow alleys and mean streets, Markhat tries to stay one step ahead of disaster. And ignore Mama Hog’s dire warnings that this time, the head that rolls could be his own.

My review:If Terry Pratchett’s Samuel Vimes and Dashiel Hammett’s Sam Spade ever had a love child, he would be finder Markhat. Sardonic, embittered, suspicious, but at heart a gentleman and an honorable ex-soldier, he expects the worst from everyone and brings out the best in many.

Tuttle’s world is very reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork. Very reminiscent – to the point where it bothered me quite a bit. Not only is there the same mix of fantasy and urban reality, you have Trolls playing a very large part in the story – and they’re identical to Pratchett’s trolls. Even the opening reminds one of the start of Guards, Guards. The character names are very similar, as are the details of shops and the city and the river. Not identical, mind you, just a bit too close an imitation at times. As the first story, Dead Man’s Rain, progresses, however, it finds its own unique voice and setting, and I stopped thinking this was Pratchett noir.

Dead Man’s Rain is a horror story and a narrative about venal instincts, greed and guilt. The set up is a little Maltese Falconish, and Markhat’s weary cynicism is pure Spade as he deals with the snobby Widow Merlat and a incredible tales of ghosts and hauntings. But then, just as Tuttle sets you up thinking the plot will be resolved one way, he takes you down another. We learn more about Merlat’s family, and her, and her servants, and Markhat reveals the qualities that kept him alive through a bitter and destructive war, in order to save the good and punish the wicked. This is not a romance – there’s no pairing in this at all – and that’s how it should be for our tarnished hero.

In The Mister Trophy, Mama Hog, the interfering psychic and tarot reader from the first story, sends Markhat a Troll for a client, and lands him deep in a family feud as well as ongoing hostilities from the war. He finds support from old enemies, and those supposedly on his own side, the worst danger of all, while spending an awful lot of time in sewers and in the companies of very big Rocks.

Tuttle’s writing is delightful, and even if he’s borrowed some settings a little too heavily, Markhat’s his own memorable creation, as are the plots and the dialogue. He’s funny, in a very Bogartian sort of way, but like Pratchett, there’s a deeper thread to his narrative than simple humour, with many a wry observation on human and non-human behaviour, populating his stories with vivid characters who continually surprise the reader.

Really, there’s nothing not to like here, if you like this genre, and aren’t put off by the lack of romance. Finder Markhat is someone I want to read more about, and I hope Mr Tuttle revisits him. Dead Man’s Rain and The Mister Trophy are both highly recommended.