Daniel Polansky’s Low Town is one of my favorite books so far this year. It’s a dark mystery with flashes of magic. The main character of the story, called only the Warden, does not present himself as a likeable man. Once an agent with Black House, the law enforcement body in Rigus, he is definitely no longer on the right side of the law. Herein lies the contradiction of the Warden – just because he is no longer on the right side of the law doesn’t mean he isn’t a man with morals. Just understand that his morals are not everyone’s, and a murdered child thoroughly offends every shred of decency he has left.
The Warden co-owns a pub, The Staggering Earl, in Low Town with his war buddy, Adolphus. Like almost every other Low Town character, Adolphus isn’t much of a beauty – but he’s got a heart. The idea of a murdered child is more than he can handle, too – and he believes that his friend the Warden is the one to handle it.
When the news reaches The Staggering Earl that Little Tara was only the first child to die, it is clear to the Warden that it is time for him to face his demons.
Those demons include the folks at Black House, who ran him out on a rail five years ago. He is in the utterly strange position of being a suspect by virtue of the investigation he’s done on his own; he talks them into letting him work it for a bit longer to see if he can solve it. It sounds like a cheesy movie line, but the book is better than that. For the Warden, it really has become personal. He does, fortunately, have consistent support from Adolphus, as well as a few unexpected other quarters.
As he takes Low Town apart to find the killer or killers, the Warden finds that he is no longer who he thought he was. Neither is anyone else.