Daniel Polansky's latest work is somewhat out of my comfort zone, being accustomed as I am to the gritty realism of thrillers and detective novels. However, I did find it a refreshing change.
'The Straight Razor Cure' is set in a world somewhat reminiscent of ours circa 1300, with the addition of magic. Shady characters, from street urchins to lords, are abundant and pretty much all hold the reader's interest well. Polansky's talent most definitely lies in character crafting, and this piece is a good vessel for that.
The story is told in the first person by 'The Warden' - a soldier turned policeman turned drug dealer. With an addiction himself, a short temper and a quick mind, I couldn't ask for a better guide. Every description and every confrontation is concise, engrossing and contains a witty observation or joke. 'The Warden' is an infinitely likeable, and entertaining, narrator, without falling into the pitfall of being too goody-goody - he is, after all, a drug dealer.
The plot is more of a standard fare: children are going missing from the slums, and the Crown (read: police) are stumped. So 'the Warden', disliked by his former colleagues, is drafted in to solve the case on threat of death if he fails. Not exactly revolutionary, and the author seems to realise this - adding in twists and turns and embellishing everything with a gripping lore to the world. Some of this, however, does feel like complicated for complicated's sake. And despite a twist I didn't see coming, its conclusion leaves me feeling slightly robbed after the excellence of the setting and the characters.
Had it had a better plot, I would have happily written a five star review. However, as it is, I feel 'The Straight Razor Cure' deserves a very solid four stars. Polansky has created a marvellous world populated by fascinating characters, let down by a passable plot and a slight over-reliance on made up names, for places, people and things, many of which go without explanation. Low town is very much a world I would welcome returning to, and one I would recommend you visit for the first time as well. Just avoid the Angel's breath.