Cursed: A Garrison Wake Investigation (Murder! Mystery! Mayhem! Book #4)
Paul M. Feeney
I love anything that comes out from Demain Publishing, as they’re one of the best Horror publishers that I’ve come across in all my years reviewing titles in the genre. They’ve achieved that distinction through a deeply impressive process of combining high-quality writing, distinct and artfully-composed covers by Adrian Baldwin, and carefully-curated content. They’re perhaps best known for Horror titles, of which I’ve reviewed many, but I’m incredibly pleased to see that the publisher is expanding into other genres; that’s always a positive sign for a publisher, an indication that they’re doing well, and I was eager to see what they were releasing in their new imprints through 2020. Back in 2019 during my #DemainDecember event, I’d reviewed Maggie of My Heart by Alyson Faye, the first title in Demain’s new Murder! Mystery! Mayhem! imprint, and found it to be a gritty 1940s noir novelette that reinterpreted the femme fatale trope and gave it back its agency in the process. Noticing that Demain had recently released several more titles under the imprint’s banner recently, I decided to take a look at them, focusing first on Paul M. Feeney’s occult detective novelette Cursed. The cover was Adrian Baldwin’s usual high quality, featuring a creepy-looking pentagram amulet, and the back-cover blurb sounded intriguing, mentioning a shape-shifting detective and a case involving a lethally-cursed DVD.
While waiting for a prospective client to arrive at a dingy café, a young woman approaches P.I. Garrison Wake, in such an obvious state of distress that he doesn’t mind – for once – when she asks him to take a case for her instead of letting him take on the client he was expecting. In short order it turns out that he is, indeed, the client in question, and she has a baffling case that she needs his help resolving. She’s desperate to find out why someone anonymously sent her a mysterious DVD which, in the best traditions of the genre, she immediately watched without thinking about it; filled with a series of horrifying and gruesome images, the DVD ends by claiming that the woman has a mere seven days left before she dies. Wake is distinctly sceptical, given his intimate knowledge of how curses operate and the differences between what he terms The Mundane World and The Shadow World; that sort of thing shouldn’t be physically possible. But given that the client is utterly terrified and believes she only has a few days left to live, he gives in and decides to investigate.
Without much to go on, Wake is forced to research the symbol appearing in the footage, the description of which seems vaguely familiar. Pounding the sidewalks of the seedier parts of Detroit, Wake visits places that specialise in facts and information about The Shadow World and those who operate within it. When he stumbles across information linking the strange symbol with a small-time crook and magic-user, Wake decides to confront him in his lair, a dingy club stinking of magic. But when the confrontation takes an unexpected direction, what seemed like a relatively simple case becomes far more complex than Wake could ever have imagined, and ends in an unexpectedly grim-dark manner for both detective and client.
Alhough Cursed is really quite short, Feeney nonetheless does a first-rate job of getting that fantasy-noir feeling down on the story’s pages; I got a little shiver down my spine after reading just the first few paragraphs, and instinctively knew that I was going to really enjoy his story. Feeney has a great eye for characters, each one in the story feeling three-dimensional and fully fleshed-out despite the small word-count; Wake and Anton DeWilde, the small-time gangster, in particular felt like characters that had walked out of a full-length novel, or even a series of novels from the amount of backstory they were implied to have, and the way they interacted with each other. The magical version of Detroit, and the magical system that exists in the Garrison Wake universe, has the same in-depth feeling, as if Feeney has spent a great deal of time thinking about the setting, and how various elements interact with each other. Not only is it well developed, but it also has some thoughtful takes on the fantasy elements, especially the rather neat idea that magic has a distinct smell to it, an odour that gets stronger the more powerful an adept is. It’s an original idea I haven’t seen elsewhere, and I’m rather curious as to where Feeney could take it in future stories, and the implications it has on the wider universe. I also appreciated the subtle elements of world-building introduced in regards to the shadowy version of Detroit in this universe, including the idea of rival gangs fighting for control, and Wake’s dubious links to one of them in his chequered past.
Cursed has all the signs of being the carefully-constructed and thoughtfully-considered foundations of a first-rate series, with enough original ideas and skilful writing from Feeney to ensure that it won’t have any problems standing out from its many competitors in such a crowded genre. Garrison Wake is a tough, mysterious and pleasingly complex protagonist with a great deal of character depth to uncover, and the magic-infused Detroit that he inhabits seems like it has a great deal of occult-related Murder, Mystery and Mayhem to be unleashed. Cursed displays all the hallmarks of a classic urban fantasy detective series, with an engaging protagonist and original take on the requisite magic system, as well as a promising setting in the form of Detroit’s magical underworld, and I am looking forward to seeing more from Garrison Wake in the future.