________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 28 . . . . March 21, 2014


The Housetrap Chronicles. Volume I.

R. J. Hore.
High River, AB: BURST/Champagne Books (www.burstbooks.ca or www.champagnebooks.com), 2014.
286 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-77155-081-9.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

*** /4



I don't like Elves, never have. I sat tilting back in my chair counting the stains on the ceiling when she walked through the open door of my inner office unannounced - unannounced, because I'd just given Bertha the afternoon off to visit her sick brother. Bertha's half Banshee, thin as a lamppost with long straight dark hair and big brown eyes. She's always got a relative down with the Black Death or some obscure curse; I think she has twelve brothers, but I digress.

The Elf arrived in my office wrapped in a full-length gold lamé coat with a large hood covering her head and hiding most of her features, but I could tell she was pure Elf. Those yellow eyes are a dead giveaway even if you can't spot the pointed ears. I'm a student of nature, have to be; the breed often determines character, or motive, or veracity. In my business, you have to stay two jumps ahead or you're squashed like a scarab. I'm a Mongrel himself. You can never tell about Mongrels, and there are more of us around now ever since the Goldilocks affair. Now there was a real witch, not the kind with just a warty nose, but she married that Wolf back in the days before they gave femmes the vote. Then they went overboard and made it all legal in the Intermarriage Act of 1812, and everything has tumbled Jack over Jill downhill ever since.

What do you get when you combine the literary genres of fantasy and the detective story? The answer is R. J. Hore's The Housetrap Chronicles, the title perhaps being an homage to Agatha Christie's murder mystery play, The Mousetrap, which holds the record for the longest initial run of any play in history. The Housetrap Chronicles is not a single novel, but it is, instead, a compilation of three novellas that were originally published as ebooks in 2012 and 2013. The novellas' central character is Randolf C. Aloysius, a Private Investigator of the hardboiled Sam Spade or Mike Hammer ilk. His Girl Friday is Bertha whose caring loyalty to Aloysius reminds me somewhat of Erle Stanley Gardner's Della Street. In "Housetrap", Aloysius, who lives in Central City, "a civilized prairie town", is hired to locate a missing fiancé; in "Dial M for Mudder", he must recover a stolen statue; and, finally, in "House on Hollow Hill", Aloysius goes undercover to prevent a famous painter from being murdered by his rivals.

      All three of these plotlines are what readers would expect to find in a typical detective story; however, what makes these novellas different is that the crime stories are imbedded in a fantasy setting which is populated by, among others, elves, banshees, ogres, vampires, hobgoblins, brownies, gremlins, fairies, goblins, witches, harpies, demons and leprechauns. And while Aloysius can arm himself with the usual tools of his PI trade, a gun, "brass" knuckles and a billy club, he can also include hexes and spells in his arsenal. Two of Aloysius' cases require that he go off-world. In "Housetrap", Aloysius must travel to Mars in pursuit of the missing fiancé while his search for the purloined statue takes him to Venus in "Dial M for Mudder". The "earthly" world Aloysius inhabits is a mixture of future and past. While he can travel by "space ships" to other planets, on his home planet, ground transportation is by horse-pulled wagons or via steam powered vehicles.

      As bizarre as this mash-up of genres seems to be, Hore makes it all work, and in each novella he incorporates a clever plot twist relating to the crime. Though the novellas were originally written for an adult audience, high school-aged fantasy fans will definitely be drawn to the most imaginative world that Hore has created, and along the way, they may be tempted to cross over and sample some "pure" detective fiction.


Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB, "a [mostly] civilized prairie town".

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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