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Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak
Cover Artist: Jacqueline Nasso Cooke
Review by Drew Bittner
Pyr Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781633881365
Date: 01 March 2016 List Price $18.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Interview with Richard A. Knaak / Show Official Info /

Nick Medea seems like just an ordinary guy for hire in 1920s Chicago...except that the only people who see his ads are in touch with the supernatural. With his uncanny pet, Fetch, he takes jobs that put him up against monsters, upholding a vow to protect humanity. But this last case could be the one that finally kills him.

In Black City Saint, Richard A. Knaak offers up a hero working Prohibition Chicago, when mobsters were larger than life, the lights of the city were brighter and the shadows were much darker. First up is working a haunted house case for Mrs. Hauptmann, a widow who's in greater danger than she realizes. Medea takes on a monstrous and very hungry presence inside the house. It's no easy fight. In the middle, a voice offers its help--which Nick has used before, at some risk--but Nick resists and wins on his own.

That such a creature could have entered the physical world is bad. It means the Gate has been broken. If Nick cannot find and seal the breach, more creatures will pour into the world, quickly overwhelming his ability to fight them. Trying to clear his head, Nick visits a church where the spirit he calls Diocles offers help, but once again Nick refuses, for reasons of his own. His burning fury at Diocles may be age-old but it is undiminished.

Just as Nick thinks he has a handle on what's happening, Fate throws him another curve in the form of an old love seemingly reborn. Claryce Simone, who seeks to hire Nick, is the very image of a woman he twice failed to save. Perhaps offered a third chance, Nick is determined that Claryce will be protected, even if doing so will complicate his life's work--or make it impossible altogether.

A further complication is a frenemy with authority and purpose combined: Alejandro Cortez of the Chicago police. Alex seems to be on the same trail as Medea, a situation that only increases his suspicion as events ramp up and Nick's involvement becomes suspicious. Although Cortez believes Nick is merely a ghost-breaker, flim-flamming gullible clients, he also knows there is more to Nick than meets the eye. Nick Medea is a mystery Cortez plans to solve.

Nick has an ally of sorts, in the form of a spirit that offers him both advice and power. The power is a terrible risk, but as this mystery unfolds, and a mighty enemy is revealed, Nick might have to risk it all for love and humanity both.

Knaak offers up a thrilling adventure/mystery in this volume, creating the glamorous world of Chicago and populating it with men, women and monsters who all have dark secrets and darker agendas. Nick is a hero with a longer past than he cares to admit, as well as a purpose that overrides his instincts for self-preservation. Although he has power of his own, he has to be very careful in using it, such that he must rely on tricks and his tenuous allies--like Fetch and Diocles--for help at crucial moments. If his control should slip, Nick himself might represent a threat greater than nearly any he's battled in his life.

Fetch is a worthy companion to Nick, a werewolf locked in wolf-shape for lack of magic to transform. He has his own objectives in play, but his loyalty to Nick is well shown. He also has some of the most entertaining dialogue in the book, as he attempts to master human slang of the era.

Claryce is more than the damsel in distress. She takes charge by involving herself in Nick's investigation of her boss, the shadowy Mr. Delke, and by dint of will becoming Nick's partner instead of his client. She has echoes of Nick's past associations, but Knaak treads a very careful line: will Nick realize she is not the same exact women he once loved? The question becomes rather important in the course of the story.

It would be hard to describe the villain without giving away major plot points, so suffice to say that Nick's unusual history is over-matched by that of his opponent. If Nick has fabled, even legendary aspects to him, the enemy has more--and improbably has cheated death. He has his own reasons for wanting the Gate thrown wide, and some of them are very personally relevant to Nick.

The action is fast-paced, the setting lushly described, and the characters are both familiar and foreign; it's a pleasure getting past their facades and learning who they really are, as that plays a big part in the unfolding narrative.

Knaak has been a novelist since the '80s, with a bibliography that spans media and gaming tie-ins, with a large shelf of his own titles. He's a writer of vast imagination and great skill, such that readers should make themselves familiar with his work. Black City Saint is a welcome new release and quite hopefully the start of a new series of adventures.

Recommended.

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