The Straight Razor Cure, also known to US readers as Low Town, is Daniel Polansky’s debut novel and a notable one at that. Polansky choses not to follow the beaten path, offering us a rich and unusual setting of drug and crime-ridden streets populated by characters that do not play by the book and can well and truly resonate with us readers. Amidst a supernatural serial killing case, dealing with corrupt police services and fighting his own personal battles, Warden’s tale is one worthy of readership.The Straight Razor Cure is by no means perfect, but it is a damn good offering on the part of a debut novelist.
Welcome to Low Town.
Here, the criminal is king. The streets are filled with the screeching of fish hags, the cries swindled merchants, the inviting murmurs of working girls. Here, people can disappear, and the lackluster efforts of the guard ensure they are never found.
Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer; now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his.
But then a missing child, murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley.
And then another.
With a mind sharp as a blade and an old but powerful friend in the city, he’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer.
If the killer doesn’t find him first.
Praise must be given to Daniel Polansky for not following the most typical of routes in building his fantasy novel. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that The Straight Razor Cure is an out-of-this-world original novel, but it does have a certain uniqueness in feel and pace that make it standout from other similar fantasies. The setting plays a big part in this, Low Town being the slightly unsettling hybrid of your typical fantasy story and our own modern metropolises. With a fair number of would-be anachronisms - modern vernacular, contemporary police procedures, etc. - Polansky’s Low Town reminds me most of Mark Charan Newton’s Villjamur, also noted for it’s uncommon melange of mock-historic and modern.
This captivating setting has the effect of bringing us into the story. On that point, Polansky does a good job for the most part, constructing a puzzling trail of murders for us to elucidate alongside Warden, complete with a twist which in retrospect seemed somewhat obvious, but which I did not foresee while reading (which either says something about me, or Polansky’s skill - don’t know). Polansky’s control of plot as a debut writer is remarkable, but this doesn’t stop the it from having a tendency to wander and slow the pace of the novel down. Thankfully, the strong characterization makes up for this...
Through its first person narration, The Straight Razor Cure gives us the opportunity to get to intensely know the protagonist, Warden. He is without a doubt the heart of the story. On the exterior cold and calculating with all the appearance of a common criminal, Warden reveals himself to be much more than that. Plagued with a tumultuous past of long-fought wars and service in the special operations branch of the Low Town police, it’s fair to say that he’s been through a few things in his time. His position as a renowned drug dealer - albeit one with a hint of morals - puts him in an interesting position when he decides to do the semblance of a good thing: investigate the murder and butchering of a young girl.
Warden’s mind is perhaps the most intriguing element of the book to explore, despite the novel’s terrific setting and it’s well-wrought plot. At times dark, conflicted and desiring nothing but a fix, while at other times brilliantly fast-witted and investigative, or again pensive and philosophical, Warden’s mind is a place you can never get to know fully. It goes without saying that Polansky’s characterization is well beyond average, succeeding in making this past-his-prime vigilante junky an attractive - if deeply flawed - hero. More than anything else, it was he peculiarities and strength of character that kept me reading The Straight Razor Cure, especially in instances of meandering pace.
An occasionally slow and wandering plot apart, Daniel Polansky’s very first fantasy novel has much to acclaim. With some seriously good characterization, well thought out setting and a good supply of mystery, corruption, drugs and criminality, The Straight Razor Cure has much going for it. As good as it is, I don’t think it deserves to be an essential read, as some books are wont to be, but if the opportunity arises, or if it has already caught your eye, then I readily recommend you give a trip through Low Town a try. The Straight Razor Cure is already available from Hodder & Stroughton in the UK and as Low Town from Doubleday in the US.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Daniel Polansky's Website: http://www.danielpolansky.com/
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