A Troll Walks into a Bar: A Noir Urban Fantasy Novel by Douglas Lumsden - Book Review

Write on: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 by  in Assaph's Reviews Read 4607

Considering my love of detective stories, especially noir, hard-boiled types, and urban fantasy it wasn't a big surprise I jumped right on this.

What to Expect

Expect a classic detective story like Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammet, but set in an alternate world suffused with magic. The protagonist, through whose eyes the story is told, is able to work some magic (summon air elementals). There are others who can control elementals, but more noticeably are the races: gnomes, trolls, and adaro (merfolk). The world is otherwise similar to our own, early 21st century, although with its own geography and history.

The story progresses like many staples of the genre, as our detective is hired (sort of) by the obligatory bombshell, and as he chases down leads and complications he slowly unravels a far greater conspiracy. 

What I liked

I love noir stories, and this is an excellent example. From the narrator's sassy tone, to the 1930's-ish slang and fashion, and to the foundation of the private detective who get in over his head but toughs it through and figures it out in the end. If you love those hard-boiled characters, Alex Sutherland is certainly a likeable fellow. He's slightly modernised, which neatly overcomes some of the classics' biases and prejudices, and Lumsden does an excellent job of maintaining the atmosphere without sinking into unsavoury cliches. 

What to be aware of

You have to love film noir and the pulps to enjoy this. This style has gone somewhat out of fashion and might seem disjointed to those who haven't been exposed to it, and this novel - being an excellent specimen - might not click if you're used to purely modern writing. This isn't a thriller like Harry Dresden, or a police-procedural like PC Grant - this is a proper private investigator story.

Felix's Review

Felix want to have a chat with Alex, because clearly the two of them share many traits. He feels they'd enjoy swapping stories about past cases, and he'd like to learn more about Alex's world and magic. He'll even pay for the wine.


If you love the more detective side of urban fantasy (rather than thriller or romance), specially works like those of Richard Knaak's Black City Saint or my own Togas, Daggers, and Magic, then you would absolutely love this novel!



Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He's the protagonist of the Toags, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of paranormal detective on a background of ancient Rome.


Last modified on Saturday, 08 May 2021 05:57

Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin. 

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, kids, cats, and - this being Australia - assorted spiders. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.



Twitter: @assaphmehr