ANGELA SLATTER Vigil. Reviewed by Folly Gleeson
The mixing of genres in Vigil makes a very rich pudding.
Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch have both blended crime and fantasy in a very seductive fashion and Angela Slatter has done the same with this tale of the crimes that result from a clash of the Weyrd and the Normal, set in Brisbane – she calls it Brisneyland.
Verity Fassbinder is a half-Weyrd, half-Normal person whose only obvious weirdness is extreme strength. Her father Grigor, however, was of the old Weyrd and his crimes were extremely dark. He catered to tastes that were really horrific. There are many different types of Weyrd in Brisbane. Most conform to certain sanctions against anti-Normal behaviour, but there are some of the old school who have vile and violent appetites and are prepared to commit abhorrent crimes –selling wine made from the tears of children is one. But Grigor’s crime was worse.
Verity is a sort of enforcer. She tries to make sure that the edicts of the Council, the controlling body of the Weyrd, are maintained. Her ex-lover Bela, or Vzezdomir Tepes, is her boss. He is marked by a distinct Transylvanian aura and his sidekick (and Verity’s driver) is Ziggi Hassman, who has an eye in the back of his head. Like all private eyes Verity has a vice, but it’s not drink, it’s pudding-like cakes. Her favourite coffee shop, Little Venice, is run by the sisters Norn, Aspasia, Thais and Theodosia, whose foretelling powers are not normal:
… one sister genuinely laid out your choices, one made your fate with her words and the third simply lied. Problem was, you couldn’t really tell which did which.
In spite of this, Verity goes to them for information and in time-honoured private eye tradition has to bully the truth from them. She has to warn them that if the Normals get any idea that the old Weyrd appetites are fermenting again and crimes are occurring, there will be retribution of the old type. Peasants with hoes and shovels drove many of the old Weyrd to Australia from various distant places and Verity’s role is to sort out any infringements so that the Weyrd can survive and not provoke retaliation.
Verity is dealing with mythological beings: glorious Sirens, a Golem, Weyrd practitioners of the old school, and even Angels. These creatures survive in everyday Brisbane by using Glamour to hide their differences – and several of them wear Doc Martins. Slatter has made all of these unreal beings into recognisable and fascinating characters. And she has done it in witty, snappy, dry and ironic prose.
There are several lines of inquiry: there is a missing rich young man; there is a Golem made of rubbish targeting the homeless and the Council; there are beautiful Sirens falling from the sky with their wings ripped off; Verity’s new lover, David, a Normal, has been kidnapped and a very special baby named Calliope is missing. Verity has a contact in the police force, Detective Inspector Rhonda McIntyre, and their relationship is affectionately brusque:
‘Fassbinder, we’ve got another one of those chicken women.’ She didn’t bother to keep her voice down; she was unhappy and she didn’t care who knew it. I held the phone away from my ear and could still hear her perfectly, and so, I suspected, could David. ‘Have you got any-fucking-thing for me?’
‘Tomorrow I’m trying the kindies near her home,’ I offered.
‘What am I paying you for?’ she barked.
In spite of the complexity, the story is so well plotted that everything comes together with a very satisfactory meshing of hip, urban Brisbane and the supernatural. Verity Fassbinder is a classic crime-solving detective but her witty style and self-knowledge make her very endearing.
There is to be a sequel, Corpselight, and I’m delighted.
Angela Slatter Vigil Jo Fletcher Books 2016 PB 368pp $32.99
Folly Gleeson was a lecturer in Communication Studies. At present she enjoys her book club and reading history and fiction.
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