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Hot Lead, Cold Iron Review


Hot Lead, Cold Iron is the latest offering from fantasy author Ari Marmell and it is quite a different affair from his previous works such as The Goblin Corps and the Widdershins Adventures.

The setting is Prohibition era Chicago, where Elliott Ness and his Untouchables have accomplished the impossible by bringing down criminal overlord Al Capone, and the city is on the brink of an all out mob war as rival gangs fight over the remains of Capone’s empire. In the midst of this is Mick Oberon, a private detective who is anything but human despite his appearance. Oberon is among the last in a line of aristocratic fae who, for undisclosed reasons, has turned his back on his kind.

Oberon only takes mundane cases until he reluctantly agrees to locate a gangster's missing daughter, who was replaced with a changeling sixteen years before. The cold case soon becomes hot as the trail leads him back to the corruption of the fae court and he becomes the target of a dangerously insane witch.

Hot Lead, Cold Iron is as hard boiled a detective drama as anything written by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane, and Marmell captures the vernacular of the period wonderfully. Women are “broads”, guns are “gats”, and eyes are “lamps” or “peepers”. And as with all the great crime fiction of the '30s and '40s, Hot Lead, Cold Iron’s narrative is delivered in the first person.

Marmell has also created a character that’s as tough as Mike Hammer or Philip Marlowe in Mick Oberon, even if his favourite tipple is a glass of milk or, if he really feels like getting wild, cream. Instead of packing a Smith & Wesson Oberon packs a Luchtaine & Goodfellow Model 1592 wand. Well, he is fae after all and fae have difficulty using technology. A telephone, car or even just catching a subway train can cause varying levels of pain and discomfort to fae which, as Oberon explains, is why they no longer inhabit our world. But it is with no small degree of irony that Oberon notes that the major fae cities are based on human cities. So the Otherworld Chicago is a mysterious hybrid of fae culture and human architecture.

Hot Lead, Cold Iron could easily have been published in any one of the popular pulp detective magazines of the '30s and yet it’s pace and characterizations are undoubtedly contemporary. The conclusion strongly hints that there will be another Mick Oberon case and if it’s as fun and entertaining as this one, then Ari Marmell will soon be crowned the foremost purveyor of Macabre Noir.

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