ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: The Fetch Phillips Archives (Book #2)
Genre: Fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery, noir
Published: 24th September 2020 by Orbit (UK) & 22nd September 2020 by Orbit (US)
Dead Man in a Ditch continued the compelling tale of Fetch Phillips and Sunder City, and I welcomed its melancholic embrace.
Ah, Fetch Phillips – could there ever be a main protagonist that make you feel so torn between forgiving, or forsaking him for the utterly devastating mistake that he made in a rush of poorly managed emotions? Maybe there was but I’ve yet to come across one like him in my reads so far. I, for one, am sympathetic to his plight. How many of us really could lay claim to not having made mistakes that we’ve regretted? Practically none of us I would think, unless you’re inanimate or have absolutely no emotions that could drive your decisions. With Fetch though, he had to live with an egregious error that stares him in his face every waking hour of his life. Ever since the first book, I’ve found Fetch to a wholly realistic character. He may not be likeable to some readers, but I found authenticity in his, admittedly sometimes selfish, quest for redemption. And his voice is refreshing in a morbidly humourous way. It’s like one had to learn to laugh at one’s self-inflicted misfortune, or else just go insane.
There’s something different about Luke Arnold’s take on urban fantasy as well. While it has the usual magical creatures like elves, faes, gnomes, orcs and shapeshifters, it is non-formulaic in that the narrative dealt with magic having disappeared from the face of the earth. At the hands of human, no less. Instead of the typical plot of magic imperiling life on earth, the narrative carried more commentary on the social and ecological impact from humankind. Or at least, that’s how it came across to me. There is one particularly controversial topic being addressed in Dead Man in a Ditch, one which resonated strongly with my view. I would prefer not to reveal what it was because it is linked to a mystery that Fetch was working on early in the book.
At first, the story seemed almost episodic as Fetch moved from one investigation to another. It didn’t take too long, however, for a cohesive story to emerge. There is a bit more action in this book compared the The Last Smile in Sunder City, but it is still by no means comparable to the usual urban fantasy narratives. I still find the setting bleak and the tone melancholic as Fetch goes about his way as a Man for Hire for non-humans as a means to help the best he could. Honestly, this series could almost be named Down and Out in Sunder City for his life and living conditions are downright miserable. But at the same time, there’s just this tiny glimmer of hope dangling invitingly to lure the reader (and our MC) to dare to hold out for something better. Fetch may think himself without friends and that no one cares about him, and it’s those little moments where he appeared to be proven wrong that made it all so worthwhile – both for him and my aching heart. Luke Arnold’s writing continued to impress me. The gritty, noir elements are delivered with a lyrical ease that just worked and fit Fetch’s story.
I expected to enjoy reading Dead Man in a Ditch, and I was not disappointed in the least. What I didn’t expect was how much it made me think. In fact, it’s an odd coincidence that I was finishing up Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens as I was reading this. There are shared themes here I believe about humankind that was felt more keenly in this sequel. If you’ve read and liked The Last Smile in Sunder City, I’m quite certain you’ll enjoy Dead Man in a Ditch as well. All I can say now is that I will continue to look forward to reading more about Fetch Phillips and Sunder City.