Hale’s portal fantasy The Rifter was one of my favorite books that I read this year. (I know, I have read very little this year. But it would have been one of my favorites no matter how many books I read.)

Wicked Gentlemen lacks the intensity and the epic quality of The Rifter, but has its own charms. In steampunk-ish world where the descendants of demons are an oppressed minority, Inquisition Captain Harper walks into the office of a down-on-his-luck demon detective, Belimai Sykes, to get some help with a murder case.

If that sounds like the opening to a noir, it’s because it has many of the elements of one: the teeming city, the straightlaced cop with a secret, the underworld into which the detective must descend, the narrator whose cynicism hides a tarnished and bitter idealism, the mystery whose solution reveals the social malaise at the heart of society, the sexual charge between detective and client.

But it’s a noir in which the femme homme fatale is the detective rather than the client, the romance is between two men, and the barriers between the haves and the have-nots include actual biological differences: not only to the demons have special powers (which mostly don’t do them any good) but the light of the human side of the city hurts their eyes, and the air of the demon side burns human skin.

It’s also more optimistic than most noir. The establishment may be corrupt, but it’s not such a dog-eat-dog world on an individual level. Many of the characters are quite likable. I was really rooting for the cop/criminal romance to succeed. It’s more a fantasy with a romantic angle than a romance in a fantasy world, but the romance was very well-done. (A one-night stand that becomes more.) It’s surprisingly sweet.

As in The Rifter, female characters are secondary but all have their own agendas and motivations. The language gives the cynical rhythms of noir a sensual lushness. Try the first page and see how you like it.

I should probably mention that one of the main characters is a drug addict. It’s a fantasy drug, and the reason he’s an addict involves the nature of the world and is crucial to the plot. Still, FYI.

Wicked Gentlemen
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