The Second Detective
Shannon Mullally, 95 pgs, Anvil Press, anvilpress.com, $16
If you’re one to judge books by their covers, you’ll miss out on true gems like The Second Detective. The book design is strange, the back cover description a head scratcher, and the front boasts that it was the winner of the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest — I mean, how good can a book that was written in three days be?
The answer: delightfully good.
The Second Detective starts out like your typical hardboiled detective novel. A beautiful dame enlists a veteran private eye to help find her missing husband. Simple enough. Then things take a strange turn. You’re thrust into a not-so-distant dystopian future where blood and soda are contraband, and reincarnation is real. The intrigue is not just that said beautiful dame is looking for her husband, but that there’s a chance he has already died and been reincarnated into an animal like a bandicoot, or a bonobo, or maybe some sort of plant. That makes finding him a bit tricky, right? Well, it’s nothing new for our private eye, Frank who, as a “second detective” specializes in reincarnation cases that often involve finding missing lovers and family.
Mullally’s prose was a real highlight for me. Our narrator, Frank, is on the cusp of retirement. As he delves into this latest missing husband case, he simultaneously records advice for his successor. He has a short, clippy narration style that creates unwavering momentum. There’s no non-sense or fancy talk here. Our knight in sour armour gets to the heart of the matter and takes us along for the ride.
Tough-guy narration and a ridiculous plot make for some hilarious asides that had me chuckling. “Finding reincarnated loved ones is extremely difficult in the best circumstances,” Frank remarks. “And rarely, does the person searching have love in mind… Usually, it is money related. Child support payments that went missing, the finding of an extra bank account usually for a mistress. I once had a client mauled by a poodle, her fifth former husband, when she tried to get the key to a safety deposit box. You think people want to give up their wealth just because they’re in their second life? You’re wrong. Even when it no longer has any practical purpose, the poodle still wants its 401(k).”
Just under 100 pages, there’s no fat here. This makes for a compelling read, but also causes the ending to feel a bit rushed. We’re also left with some unanswered questions, like what caused society to collapse? Aliens and other planets are also introduced, but not explained. It doesn’t sully the novel, but makes me think of the possibilities. The Second Detective is just the tip of the iceberg, and Shannon Mullally’s universe likely has many more dimensions to offer.
Here’s hoping a sequel is on the horizon.