The Cadaver Client by Frank Tuttle

Rating: 9/10 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 
Title: The Cadaver Client
Author: Frank Tuttle
Genre: Fantasy, horror
URL: Samhain Publishing
Price: US 3.50
Other Information/warnings: violence, gore
Summary [from the publisher]:
The Markhat Files, Book 4

Humans, Trolls and even the halfdead have all passed through Markhat’s door—more than once—seeking his services as a finder of missing persons and lost loves. This is a first, though. This time, his client is a dead man. At least that’s what Granny Knot claims. But as long as the coin is real, Markhat has no trouble working for a guilt-ridden ghost.

Trouble is exactly what he finds, and soon he suspects his client, ghost or not, has darker motives for finding his estranged wife than the reconciliation he claims. Left with a cadaver for a client, a spook doctor for a partner, and Mama Hog as advisor on all things spiritual, Markhat must unravel a dark mystery ten years old, and do it before another grave is filled. Maybe his own.

My review:

I bought and read this on release at the end of last year, but have only just realised I never reviewed it. Not sure why, because it’s a cracking short novella, tightly paced and plotted, with the genuine creepiness and suspense that all good detective stories should have. Nothing can be taken on face value, especially when your new client – or rather client’s spokesperson – Granny Knot is consciously deceiving the general public with a show of craziness, hiding a sharp brain. That she claims to be acting on behalf of a dead man, is something Markhat has to prove for himself  – along with every other story told to him in this yarn.

Tuttle uses Mama Hog again to good effect, and Granny Knot is a great new character. Once again, the many minor characters are vivid, even if their roles are somewhat fleeting. The cast is rather less confusing than say, in the latest Markhat book, The Banshee’s Walk, and the editing is much better than in the later book. I had no complaints at all about the writing, which is uniformly excellent.

I guess my lack of enthusiasm came entirely from the total omission of Darla, who was central to Hold the Dark, and when we left Markhat at the end of that book, it was very clear that Darla was to take a prominent part in his life from that point onwards. It was thus a shock to read this book and find she’s not even mentioned, let alone a participant in the story. It’s as if Darla never existed at all, and I’m not at all fond of stories which erase important female characters, especially ones I’m damn fond of.

I don’t know know whether Tuttle planned and wrote this story before Hold the Dark, but some brief explanation, some nod to Markhat’s girlfriend’s existence, was all that was needed for the reader to be comfortable here, and not to feel that our emotional investment in Darla – which the author had been at pains to create – was being discarded so Markhat could live as a curmudgeonly old bachelor once more.

This is the only flaw in an otherwise very enjoyable story, and the only thing that stops me giving it top marks. As Darla reappears in the follow up book, on re-reading The Cadaver Client, I was inclined to feel more kindly  towards it. But on first reading, I felt horribly cheated, and it’s that initial reaction which makes this one drop a few points for me. If you love the Markhat stories, you’ll enjoy this one, but if you don’t read it, you won’t lose any continuity with the latest novel. The Cadaver Client sits in its own leg of the Trousers of Time (as Terry Pratchett would call it) and while not essential to the Markhat canon, is well worth the effort. An amuse bouche, perhaps, rather than a proper main course.