Mysteries (especially ones with a supernatural element) are to fall what light romances are to summer: the perfect accompaniment to the season. Trial by Treason and Dig Your Grave are ideally paired with a blanket, cooling weather and the smell of falling leaves in the air.
Steven Cooper’s Dig Your Grave, the second in the series, opens as Phoenix has been struck with a grisly murder—a body left in a cemetery with a gruesome note that warns of more to come. As detective Alex Mills and his crew begin to investigate, it soon becomes clear that there are no leads, no clues as to who committed the murder or why. When a second body appears with no leads in sight, Mills turns to his friend, local psychic Gus Parker, for a hand. But Gus’ visions are vague, and as the investigation begins to narrow it becomes less clear whether his intuitions are about the case or about a series of cryptic threats directed at Gus himself.
Dig Your Grave occupies an unlikely space somewhere between a story about balancing life as a middle-aged man and a hardboiled detective novel. It takes some of the tropes of the second genre—the clinical investigation, the careful police work, and the interdepartmental struggles—and presents them unapologetically. This is the reality of solving a murder, these details tell the reader, and they ground us, guiding us through the macabre mystery. But surrounding that plot is also a story about the struggle with the banalities of middle age and everyday life. Mills wrestles with what it means to be a good father and husband but still give his all to his job. Parker worries about his relationship with his rock star lover. Neither issue overshadows the main mystery. Instead, both give it context, reminding us that there is something darker on the other side of normal life.
Dave Duncan’s Trial by Treason takes readers out of the modern era and into 12th century England, where King Henry has received a letter from one of his allies warning him of a plot against the throne at Lincoln Castle. Although the letter is unbelievable, the king sends two of his familiares, the young knight Sir Neil d’Airelle and the newly minted enchanter Durwin of Helmdon, whose education he has financed for two years. When Durwin and his compatriots arrive in Lincoln, they soon discover that, far from an idle threat, the Lincoln Castle conspiracy may threaten the life of the king himself.
Duncan’s Trial by Treason, the second installment in his Enchanter General series, is simultaneously straightforward and thoughtful. Its narrator, Durwin, is matter of fact in his recounting—so matter of fact that some of the more surprising plot points can just seem like mere matters of course. However, while the book’s conspiracy is straightforward, the book itself is by no means simple. Duncan refrains from talking about his characters as merely English or French. They are Saxon, Norman or remnants of the old Danelaw. And while those details may seem initially insignificant to a modern reader, they are representative of the kind of care that Duncan has put into the construction of Trial by Treason. And that care and attention to detail are exactly what makes the book so hard to put down.