I bought my very expensive Compact Vance Integral Edition (CVIE) primarily because of the mysteries that Jack Vance had written as Jonathan Holbrook Vance. I’d read and enjoyed almost all of Vance’s SFF novels, but, aside from two equally expensive print-on-demand books (The Dark Ocean and Bad Ronald), the mysteries were hard to come by.
I’m still quite pleased with my CVIE, and I’ve been taking my time to read through it over the last few years. But one of the things I’ve learned is that SFF is really where Vance’s strengths were. Without the weird settings and social constructs that SFF affords, his distant, often asocial characters don’t fit as well.
The story starts awkwardly, with two newspaper notices – one an engagement, one a homicide. The homicide doesn’t tie into the story substantially for quite long time, yet we know it’s important, which undercuts the suspense Vance tries to generate. Even without that aspect, the story takes quite sometime to get going, and it’s not until chapter three that it really settles in.
As a mystery, it’s satisfying but not exceptional. The prose is smooth, the setting appealing, the mystery sufficient. The story as a whole, though, doesn’t demonstrate the magic Vance so often achieved with his speculative writing.
All in all, recommended for completist Vance fans, and not a bad read, but nothing to go out of your way for.