Daniel Polansky – The Straight Razor Cure

Debut novels are often not perfect as they still lack some writing experience by the author. Most important however is that they show promise for growth. The Straight Razor Cure (2011) by Daniel Polansky is such a novel. It is a fantasy and detective story seen from an underworld perspective, taking place in a city and is told from a first person narrative. Those two choices allow the author to build up his setting and his main character. He avoids clichés by putting his main character in a position of certain power and influence, with certain limitations to make it not look too easy at times. The main character has weaknesses and strengths and contrary to the usual fantasy mainstay, seems to be on a eventually declining path. This is also something unusual as the story progresses. He wins some and loses some. What will be the final advantage remains to be seen.

The main character is likable enough although his noble attitude seems to clash with his somewhat dark position. That mix combined with a solitary nature is one of the weakness of the story. It’s not entirely plausible, although many things remain vague enough to leave room for explanation. This is another strange thing about the book. Polansky mixes into the story a number of flashbacks to give more background information. Here he provides quite some details while in the main story he refrains from going into detail, leaving other things vague. It is a minor unbalance, not really noticeable. Only for me as a reviewer, thinking about the little things, it can be seen. As there will be a sequel to the novel I expect more details will be revealed.

The flashbacks do provide intermezzos in the somewhat singular murder plot. There are some nice twists, although some elements that lead to surprises can be expected long beforehand. Luckily knowing what the surprise will be is not easy, so they are not that bothersome as they are also not that many. Polanksy focuses on his main story and does not stray much from it. Because of this there are not much hidden layers to be anticipated in the next novel, making it more or less a standalone novel.

Polansky also keeps his setting in familiar territory. His world is templated on Europe, with the central nation resembling England, and using familiar names from European countries for his foreigners although the countries’ names are of his own devising. This is not a bad thing, many fantasy authors do the same. It does depend on the way it is implemented. Polansky does provide a different geographic setting, although no map is provided.

The prose is good, easy to read, although Polansky seems to throw in an unusual word now and then. I’m not a native English speaker, but I’ve read plenty to have a fair understanding of non-typical Englishy vocabulary. Nevertheless Polansky’s unusual words were really new and rather unknown to me, while his prose didn’t really much use unusual or difficult words that often. It’s just a detail, not really important, but it’s these oddities that I noted.

Overall The Straight Razor Cure was an enjoyable read. It’s not outstanding. It’s not weak or mainstream either. It is not complex and also not cliché or too simplistic. It had its minor flaws and as a debut novel show sufficient interesting things to promise growth. As such I will certainly pick up the next installment of the series. Recommended.

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