Pros: Older protagonist; fun quirkiness
Cons: Aunt Marley starts out a little too precious
Rating: 4 out of 5
Aunt Marley Jacobs just lost one of her nephews–Aloysius–to murder, and one of her employees is in jail for the crime she didn’t commit. She needs her nephew Albert to jump in and help her. After all she has a murder to solve, she has an employee to clear of a crime, she has vampire hunters making trouble in her city, and someone’s about to make a mistake that could kill hundreds, even thousands, of people. Albert is young and just hanging on by his fingernails as he and Marley take on ghosts, werewolves, and even the police.
Harry Connolly’s A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark is unusual: it’s an urban fantasy with an older woman as the protagonist, as opposed to the standard snarky twenty-something. It’s wonderful to see. My only real problem with the book, in fact, is that Marley (Jacobs, the aforementioned protagonist)–also known as Aunt Marley–starts off a little too precious. A little too twee. She’s always right and comes across as exceedingly (and unnecessarily) eccentric. That put me off toward the beginning, but it cleared up well later on. We do finally see Marley make mistakes, we get a handle on the reasons for some of her seeming eccentricities, and get the message that no, she isn’t Super-Aunt. She really does need her nephew Albert’s help to keep the peace in her city between the vampires, the werewolves, the demons, the vampire hunters, and more. Also, her nephew makes a great stand-in for the reader as he learns to navigate Marley’s world.
Rather than the standard web of supernaturals, we see how Marley has spent years shaping the local communities. The vampires she allows in her city have a ‘rest home’ they live in, with blood shipped in daily. The demon is around largely to observe, but he’s also a mean cook. The ghost exudes despair so deep that it mires all of his visitors. Events build slowly, just as they would in any good mystery, and I didn’t guess the killer in advance.
A Key is a book that crosses a handful of genres or genre-niches. Urban fantasy without the snarky young protagonist; mystery that hovers somewhere between a cozy and a thriller, with elements of both. The bits from the not-quite-cozy aspect didn’t entirely appeal to me, but that’s because cozies aren’t my thing. I very much enjoyed the rest, however. This story probably isn’t for everyone, but if you aren’t sure where you’d fit on that line, I recommend giving it a read. I think you’ll find it highly entertaining and quite enjoyable.