Hold the Dark ~ Frank Tuttle

  • Title: Hold the Dark 
  • Author: Frank Tuttle
  • Series: Markhat #3
  • Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Quiet, hard-working seamstresses aren’t the kind that normally go missing, even in a tough town like Rannit. Martha Hoobin’s disappearance, though, quickly draws Markhat into a deadly struggle between a halfdead blood cult and the infamous sorcerer known only as the Corpsemaster.

A powerful magical artifact may be both his only hope of survival—and the source of his own inescapable damnation.

Markat’s search leads him to the one thing that’s been missing in his life. But even love’s awesome power may not save him from the darkness that’s been unleashed inside his own soul.

Warning: This gritty, hard-boiled fantasy detective novel contains mild romance and interludes of suggestive hand-holding.

Review:  I can’t figure out why I like this series so much.  I’m not a big fan of mystery noir nor I usually enjoy dark macho fantasy heroes, but I really like this series and its hero, the Finder Markhat. I look forward to reading more of his adventures. I guess the writer, Frank Tuttle, is to blame. He writes too well.

The plot of this short novel is running. It never stops and it’s so swift, I can’t relax. I know that on the next page, something unexpected will happen; some new and probably magical twist will occur. It always does in this series.

When Markhat accepts the job to find Martha, a seamstress to the most elite brothel in town, he is thrown into an intrigue so dark and terrible that even his skills as a finder mightn’t be enough to solve the problem. Women have been disappearing from the city streets for the past several months, and Martha is the latest victim. If he doesn’t find her in the next few days, she would definitely die… or worse. But how to find her? Like every investigator, in both real and fantasy settings, Markham starts by asking questions. He stirs the hornet’s nests and watches what will crawl out.

Street-smart and courageous, with an old-fashioned sense of honor, Markhat doesn’t shy away from hard tasks. His rugged charm tugs at my heart, his pluck and tenacity are endearing, and his irreverent remarks often make me chuckle. And he has a positive penchant of making friends. Without his friends, he mightn’t have been able to solve this case at all.

Tuttle involves several secondary characters in Markhat’s quest to find the young woman. Each one is vivid and distinct; each plays an important role in the story. Some of them, like his neighbor Mama Hog, an old street witch, are regulars in Markhat’s universe, making their cameo appearances in each novel. Others, like the horrifyingly repulsive Corpsemaster, the powerful sorcerer controlling corpses, only appear in one story (so far) but make a lasting impression. And some, like the vampire Evis Prestley (note the name!), become unexpected allies.

In general, Markham dislikes and distrusts the halfdead, but he makes an exception for Evis – a war veteran, just like Markhat, and an unusual vampire. They kind of bond during the investigation. Both are strongly motivated, although by different reasons, to bring the culprits who kidnap and murder young women to justice.

And last but not least, there is a young woman, Darla. Although Markham doesn’t seem to have a romantic bone in his aging soldier’s body, he falls for Darla, and I’m glad for him. His feelings are gruff and unsentimental, and all the more precious because of it. Darla is definitely smitten, maybe a bit faster than is realistic, but it’s a fantasy tale after all. Unfortunately, Markham’s infrequent interludes with Darla seem to stall the story. They’re not needed for the plot, so they seem alien, unnecessary. Perhaps they serve the next novels of the series.

The dénouement also disappointed. To fight the bad guys, Mama gives Markham a strange mojo, which makes him invincible. As a result, the last fight is only hinted upon. Markham as a man blacks out, for himself as well as for the readers, the mojo takes over, and the hero only wakes up when the fight is finished and every bad guy is dismembered. What happens in that scene is bloody but unclear. Maybe it’s for the best, considering the dismemberment part.

What the author concentrates on at this point is Markham’s inner struggle to maintain control, not to fall completely under the mojo’s malicious influence. The intertwined inner and outer conflicts make the protagonist’s personality richer, but the details could’ve been handled better.

The language of this novel, like all the other Tuttle’s writing I’ve read up to now, is very clean, expressive, and spare. There are no extraneous words, no spelling mistakes, and almost no fluff. It was a delight to read and a challenge to close the book (or rather turn off the Kindle) for the night. Recommended.