The Dren War ended fifteen years ago. Some soldiers came home as heroes, others came back bitter, broken and without a future. Many didn’t make it back at all.
Roland Montgomery was one of the heroes: a brave leader and populist agitator who wanted to make life better for the veterans.
But someone very powerful in Rigus didn’t agree with the young Montgomery’s vision of a fairer society; he was murdered and dumped outside a brothel. His death still haunts Warden, once one of Roland’s fighters and nearest confidantes.
So when Warden hears that Roland’s sister Rhaine has started asking awkward questions about the killing and has disappeared in Low Town, a wise man would fear the worst. Except Low Town is the Warden’s territory: he knows whose hand is lifted against whom, where the blood flows and where the bodies fall. He’ll find Rhaine.
But he’ll also find the returning past to be a bloody, vengeful and unforgiving mistress.
On Monday, I posted my review for Daniel Polansky’s The Straight Razor Cure, book one of the Low Town series. At the time I said I was already hock deep into book two, Tomorrow the Killing and today I get to bring you a review for it. The story is an awesome return to Warden’s life. Set three years after The Straight Razor Cure, it’s readable as a standalone story, but far richer if you’ve also read the former. We not only catch up with Warden and his friends, but also learn more about Warden’s past and those passages form a continuing story with those of the prior book. They’re not necessary to understand the plot of this one, but they do inform it.
In Tomorrow the Killing we get not one but two mysteries to solve, not just the identity of the people behind the murders of Roland and Rhaine, but also the motivation for them. In both cases they aren’t killed by whom you’d suspect. In my opinion the puzzle of the whodunit was more intricate this time around; in The Straight Razor Cure I’d figured out who did it early on, even if I didn’t know why until the end. In Tomorrow the Killing I was taken completely by surprise by the identity of the instigator of both murders—Polansky pulled a fast one on me. In hindsight, there were enough clues, I’d just completely missed them.
But far more than a murder mystery this is a further exploration of the character of the Warden. Polansky continues to show us Warden’s history through flashbacks to relevant events in his life. We learn not just more about Warden, but about Adolphus and several smaller secondary characters as well. We also learn more of the history of the Rigan Empire, in particular about the war with the Dren, which is very reminiscent in setting to WWI. Polansky evokes the Great War’s trench warfare and the trials and tribulations of the soldiers fighting it vividly. From the endless mud and rain, the futility of gaining – or losing as the case may be – a few foot of ground after each assault, and the devastating effect of shell shock on the troops, you can just feel the blunted despair of the soldiers. During the book we see Warden slip down a slippery slope, becoming more and more morose and bleak, and seeking his refuge in drugs even more, culminating in confrontation with Adeline, Adolphus’ wife – who almost functions as a stand-in for the reader at that point, at least this reader, trying to talk some sense into this self-destructive man that Warden has become – and by the end there might be a suggestion that he’ll turn his life around.
Even in the lowest point of his downward swing, Warden is humanised by his relationships with Adolphus, Adeline and Wren and his sense of obligation to General Montgomery and Rhaine. While he becomes distinctly unsympathetic at points and does some pretty atrocious things, which can’t – and shouldn’t – be excused because of his, mostly, good intentions, his care and sense of responsibility for his ‘family’ at the Earl show that at heart he isn’t the blackguard he seems; he’s flawed, certainly, and a thug and an addict, but he’s not evil, such as The Old Man. He’s broken, both by the losses he suffered from the plague as a child and his experiences during the war.
While we learn more about Warden’s history with the Black House, we still haven’t learned what happened to get him stripped of his position there. A third book is in the works though, so I’m hoping all will be revealed sooner rather than later. There is also a growing threat from The Old Man, the head of the Black House, its Special Operations unit, and Warden’s erstwhile mentor. It seems he isn’t quite done with Warden yet. So there are plenty of avenues left open for Polansky to explore and that’s not even taking into account what new plot lines he might introduce. I can’t wait to find out what they might be.
Tomorrow the Killing is a fantastic second novel for Polansky and it has only whetted my appetite for more: more of Low Town and more of Polansky’s writing. If you haven’t met the Warden yet, you’re missing out. Tomorrow the Killing, like its predecessor The Straight Razor Cure, comes highly recommended and is a strong candidate for my top 10 Books of 2012.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.