Review – J.P. Leck’s The Merely Mortal
If you are one who has ever suspected, even in part, that there are, truly, monsters of both human and unhuman kind shadowing the earth, then do, I implore, proceed into my story—where awaits that confirmation. Peruse with the utmost vigilance, however, and should there come a point in which you can endure no more, the reader will not be thought a coward to close this book at once.
The above is the back blurb of the book which gives you an insight into both the style and language of The Merely Mortal by J P Leck as we hark back to the gothic detective novels of a century ago. It is written from the viewpoint of Agent Bertram, “the merely mortal” of the title and an early 20th century Pinkerton’s detective who has come to the attention of a secret society after stopping a serial killer. They require him to gather a team of specific people for a task that they are not told about until they accept. Each of these people has overcome some kind of “preternatural” enemy to give them a unique insight that will prove useful in this trial. He visits each of them in turn, explaining that the society knows of their secret and that they need to meet at a time and place to be part of the undisclosed adventure. The most important of these is Dr Edwin Lydell Pendergast, a genius exploring the science of automatonics – a Dr Frankenstein if you will, as the secret society plan to make him one of their own on completion of the task. Also on the list is The Illuminated Lumanista a veiled seer who claimed to peer out of her crystal ball. Gustavo Platon Delmar Eneas Valverda, El Matador del Mar is next, a former sailor, jailed as a madman after the rest of the crew of the whaling ship he was on were killed by something unknown, followed by the native American Nidawi Skysong, a tracker from a popular Wild West Show who had previously defeated a skin walker. Felix McKlintock, a religious zealot who travelled from church to church, dealing with unexplained problems of a religious, and generally violent, nature was the fifth member of the list and finally, The Deathless Charlie Winston, a man who apparently really did cheat Death.
With this motley crew assembled, Bertram lets them know of the task ahead and they set forth…
The book devotes a chapter to each of the members of the team at the start, telling of their story and how they came to the attention of the secret society, so the main adventure itself does not start until the second half of the book. Because this appears to be the start of a series, their stories all felt a bit like prologue and character building for the whole thing, rather than what we needed to know for the first adventure, and I think the book, as a standalone story, suffered a bit for that. I also found the language difficult to get to grips with, even though I am a big fan of gothic horror like Edgar Allan Poe, and I was frustrated at the clichéd “Victorianisation” of the narrative purely by using five florid words where one would have done and the use of the “Dear Reader” trope. I can see though what the author was trying to achieve and, for others, it may not be quite such a bind. Getting past the language, the plot itself is very well formed, the supernatural elements were believable and the quest-like nature was very reminiscent of fantasy novels with plenty of exciting action and interaction. I particularly enjoyed the observational retrospective narrative of the book and could imagine Agent Bertram at his desk, ink and quill in hand scratching out the story from the notes he had made on the journey and I look forward to reading the next book in the series where there should be less need for character building.
3 1/2 STARS!!!