The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas' stock-in-trade.

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Nicholas Boulton (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House Audio
YEAR: 2019
LENGTH: 340 pages (10 hours 36 minutes)
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Mystery

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Secondary Character(s), Trans Main Character(s).

THE AFFAIR OF THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER is a Sherlock Holmes retelling which is witty and delightful, with Watson (Captain John Wyndham) as a trans man, Sherlock (Ms. Shaharazad Haas) as a bisexual woman, and Irene Adler (Miss Eirene Viola) as a former lover being blackmailed in her engagement. The setting is fantastical, time travel is a matter of connection and logistics, other dimensions are distant but accessible, and Captain John Wyndham is too aghast to actually write how many times Shaharazad says "fuck" (though he faithfully chronicles his reticence at every turn). I adore retellings, and this was a special treat since, having begun with Sherlock Holmes in a queernorm fantasy setting, it pulled in pieces of at least two other stories I could identity, weaving them in to give me no fewer than three retellings in one. 

As a narrator, Captain John Wyndham is torn between fascination with Shaharazad's hedonism and a need to maintain his own sense of propriety. He grew up in a strictly religious environment, implicitly having chosen to live away from home due to some degree of transphobia which he never quite describes. I like how his words convey so much of his personality along with Shaharazad, making his paraphrases of her language quite clear and not just pretending she has more decorum than she does. He also makes reference to the serial release of this story's chapters, discussions with his editor, and the fact that he's writing this several decades after the events. Instead of just infodumping, he flags any particularly dense descriptions as skippable for a reader who is already familiar with the setting and recent history, at once providing guidance for readers who dislike dense descriptions, and also deepening the sense of immersion by making the reader party to the world. 

Things I love, in no particular order: The clever use of parts of Dracula; the resolution to Eirene Viola's problem; the way Wyndham keeps so tightly to propriety even when it's comically unsuitable to the situation; the narrative style, Shaharazad's bravado and continual attempts to plan as little as possible and still have things work out well enough.

Moderate CW for religious bigotry, classism, toxic friendship, toxic relationship, infidelity, alcohol, drug use, drug abuse, kidnapping, confinement, blood, violence, gun violence, murder, death.

Minor CW for cursing, ableism, transphobia, sexism, xenophobia, self harm, war, animal death.

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