#161: Hawk & Fisher (1990) by Simon R. Green

hawk-fisherAs a parody of the detective novel, the maverick cop genre, and the low Fantasy genre, Simon R. Green’s Hawk & Fisher takes quite some beating — it is an honestly hilarious take on the tropes of three.  I don’t think I’ve laughed so much since reading…well, possibly anything; almost every page contains some wonderful joke or savage undercutting of the false sincerity of the situations encountered, not unlike William Goldman’s timeless The Princess Bride.  For instance, Hawk is supposedly an expert in hand-to-hand combat with an axe, but he has only one functioning eye and therefore must lack any depth perception; it’s an absolutely genius piece of subversion, and such examples are rife.  The only problem is that I have a sneaking suspicion — only a sneaking one, mind — that this book is in fact supposed to be taken seriously.  Very Seriously Indeed.

If you take it seriously, though, it’s utterly ghastly.  I mean, the first chapter gives us this:

“Three months,” said Fisher angrily.  “Three months we’ve been working on that child prostitution racket.  And just when we’re starting to get somewhere, what happens?  The word comes down from Above, and we get pulled off the case to go looking for a vampire!”

Goddamn superiors and their sitting behind a desk!  Pencil-pushers the lot of ’em!  They’ve forgotten what real police work is!   But this ‘looking for a vampire’ case — for which they receive much kudos later on, and behave like it was an actual achievement — involves walking down an alleyway, going into an old house, only having the “Bring a stake” conversation when at the door of the house, making an absolute fustercluck of dealing with a known dangerous creature (Hawk loses his axe in the fight…ohno!) because they go in without backup…and then buggering off and deciding to “let the backup unit earn its pay for a change”.  And it’s full of dialogue like “We’ve been on some dirty jobs in the past, Hawk, but this has to be the dirtiest”.  Now tell me: who among you would want to take that seriously?

At the end of chapter 2, a locked-room stabbing…just sort of happens, which unfortunately interrupts dialogue of this calibre:

“When I discovered the Low Kingdoms were in fact governed by an elected Assembly, presided over by a constitutional monarch with only limited powers, it was as though my whole world had been tipped upside down.  How could he be King if he didn’t rule?  But the idea; the idea that every man and woman should have a say in how the country shold be run: that was staggering.  There’s no denying the system does have its drawbacks, and I’ve seen most of them right here in Haven, but it has its attractions too.”

I could read that sort of thing all day.  Thankfully, magical means are ruled out — Green’s use of magic is clearly derived from Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories — and we get to The Interviews.  The Interviews might be my favourite part, because they go pretty much exactly like this:

Hawk/Fisher: Where were you when the murder happened?
Suspect: I was in my room.
H (squinting): Really?
S: Uh, yeah.
H (squinting more): Reeeally?
S: Yup, pretty much.
H: Right then, send in the next suspect.

[Suspect leaves]

H (to F): Wow, this case is going to be tough, I can feel it.

[Suspect 2 enters]

S2: Well?  Do you know who the killer is?
Hawk/Fisher: Where were you when the murder happened?
S2: I was in my room…

Seriously, act them out; it’ll take you about four minutes — though to be fair there is a point where they stare wordlessly at one of the suspects without speaking, so that might fill half an hour or so.  These two, we’re reminded ad infinitum, are the best the city has — the very best! — and one of them has to be talked out of drinking from a wineglass found by the dead body even after it’s been explained that the wine might be poisoned.  At least this makes it clear why they married each other, as they’re each stupid enough to think they’re doing the other one a favour.

519wcm7vp8l-_ou02__bg0000_fmpng_ac_ul320_sr224320_Eventually, Hawk and Fisher are so bad at their jobs that a “truthspell” has to be cast so everyone can just blurt out what they know, reducing one element of the plot to a child’s logic puzzle.  Though, in fairness, the locked room solution certainly benefits from this variegated tone:  I’ll let Green have the motivation for it being a locked room, which is far more convincing than that of The Tattoo Murder Case last week, and there’s actually some half-decent intricacy involved in the murder itself…but the lockedness of the room, let’s say…well, I dunno.  It might be fine, it might be awful…I’m too lost on the storm-tossed seas of this encounter to know at this stage.  Someone else is gonna have to read this — and I do encourage you to read it, it’s a riot, just get it cheap — and let me know.

Thankfully there’s a rampaging werewolf in the final stretch — worry not, this is the least-spoilery spoiler ever — to get excited about.  And then everyone leaves with a good ol’ laugh at the murder, destruction of property, ruination of reputations, livelihoods, dreams, and hopes, and — once again — all the massive amounts of murder they leave behind them.  It is a reading experience quite like any other, both very much and very much not the auriferous episode I needed to lift me out of some reading doldrums.  It’s not even a guilty pleasure, it’s just shit…but if that’s the point, I applaud Green’s chutzpah and reward him accordingly.

star filledstar filledstar filledstar filledstars

If it’s meant to be good, however, then oh my word does someone need to have a word with him.  Because I am very, very confused if that’s the case.

star filledstarsstarsstarsstars

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17 thoughts on “#161: Hawk & Fisher (1990) by Simon R. Green

  1. You know, I begin to believe that science-fiction authors were better at incorporating detective-elements into their work than their counterparts from the fantasy genre, because I can’t think of a single mystery/fantasy hybrid that was a success. Anyone who mentions Randall Garrett’s Too Many Magicians should be mocked and laughed at.

    So, I’ll probably give this one a pass.

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    • There’s definitely a case that the codified nature of most SF will elicit something more in line with traditional detection when the two collide. Fantasy has much more freedom to reinvent key aspects — the werewolves in this, for instance, which can change back into human form whenever they bloody well like — meaning that the precise nature of the universe can be hard to pin down to then make a detection element workable. There’s almost a parallel thread in this situation of the cavalcade of ways this Fantasy universe is totally different from all the other Fantasy universes you’ve thus far encountered (which, y’know, is exactly the same for every Fantasy universe…awks) and inevtiably one of your threads will get lost, much like the structure and intent of this sentence.

      What I’m saying is: yes, I agree. This is a very interesting triptych of the genres I mention in the review, but it’s both all of them and none of them. It sort of a country house murder…with two Dirty Harrys…and werewolves and vampires…and an absurd absence of logic even in the narrow focus it gives itself…and if that mix holds no appeal for you, then you’re better off skipping it. But it is bloody hilarious.

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  2. “Someone else is gonna have to read this — and I do encourage you to read it, it’s a riot, just get it cheap — and let me know.”
    I will not read this even if it is given free to me. Simply not my cup of tea !

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m intrigued as to whose cup of tea it would be, Santosh! I can see a lot of low Fantasy fans reading this in the 90s and then encountering a locked room novel in later life and being quite surprised at how well the ideas of that were adopted in this…but that’s gonna be a very small number of people 🙂

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    • I honestly can’t remember. I’ve had a copy kicking around for a while now, and when TomCat put up a post about forgotten or overlooked impossible crimes (I think it was The Locked Room Reader VI on his site) this was on one of the articles he linked to. Suddenly remembering it, I then had to find it, but I feel it was worth the effort. Someone else needs to read this…any takers?

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    • I seem to remember thinking the same thing when I bought it, but I do my research thoroughly on obscure books (well, mostly — sometimes I just dive in and perish the consequences) and trusted myself. I’m glad I did. Or I wish I’d never heard of it. Still not sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Simon R. Green is like that. All his books are written with tongue firmly stuck in cheek.

    The Deathstalker series is a send up of space operas, Hawk & Fisher parody low fantasy, the Nightside books are humorous takes of urban fantasy (all of them are solved by the protagonist opening his “third eye vision” and suddenly seeing how to undo whatever the evil creatures are doing in that particular novel), the Secret Histories parodies spy novels (with a dollop of fantasy sprinkled in), and the Ghost Finders series are send-ups of conspiracy and ghost stories.

    It’s hard to read too many of his works in succession, because they tend to be very samey and relying on the same sort of humour, but I don’t think you have to worry about him being too serious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christian, you’re a star; thank-you! Okay, people, it’s official — don’t take it too seriously, which is frankly the news I was hoping for. I almost feel like I could do another one knowing this; not any time soon, mind, just at some point. Do you know if any of the other H&F books take on a similar crime solving-y structure?

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  4. All of the Hawk & Fisher novels are of this type. I read them last year, but I honestly don’t remember too much about the plots. They’re not the important thing anyway – it’s the parody of the whole thing that matters.

    So just try any one of them, or get the two omnibus editions. They contain all six novels, and all of them have some type of mystery setting.

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