“Strange People, Queer Notions” pretty much encapsulates Vance’s writing, but this is one of his mysteries, not SFF. It’s unusual for Vance in that it’s told in the first person, and of course it doesn’t have some of his more outre elements. It does, however, have a Vance standard in a clever, resourceful protagonist who is, through no fault of his own, accused of ill deeds. It’s an appealing mystery with a large, but interesting cast in a Ten Little Niggers/Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None setting.
One of the unfortunate things about Vance, whose writing I otherwise love, is that while writing about weird, quirky people who should mostly be let alone, he’s not actually very tolerant. Much like Agatha Christie’s story is weakened by its original, dated title, Ten Little Niggers, Vance’s story is weakened by attitudes whose time (so to speak) has passed. There are characters who show a much tolerant and even welcoming attitude, but there’s also a good deal of negativity about homosexuality, and much of the language is offensive. Some of this could be excused by the date, and because there is an attempt at balance.
With some misgivings, I was enjoying the story. The broad nature of the ending was clear from a fair ways off. The particular descriptive terms that are used, however, I found hard to take. It’s a shame, because despite its flaws, the story is interesting, well written, and a welcome look at another side of Vance. As is, I can’t recommend it to other than true Vance afficionados.