By Courtney Smyth
- The Undetectables
Author: Courtney Smyth
Publisher: Titan Books
- ISBN: 9781803364780
- Published: September 2023
- Pages: 445
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 28/09/2023
- Language: English
Advances in forensic science can feel like magic from the discovery that we all had unique fingerprints to the use of DNA to catch criminals, but what would you do in a world were magic exists? Can science be used to solve crimes committed by magic? The Undetectables believe so, they use their scientific knowledge to solve cases, but it also helps that they are witches. Three witches, and one ghost who can never remove the novelty cat ears he was wearing when he died.
Mallory, Cornelia, and Diana were close friends, but life got in the way and while the other two moved away, Mallory remained in the magical town of Wrackton suffering from an illness. They had planned to start their own Private Investigators called The Undetectables, specialising in magical crimes. Fate is on their side as they find themselves all back in town at the same time as a mysterious murder is committed. For some reason, the Night Mayor wants them to investigate. Is this a coincidence too far?
I love Urban Fantasy, but magic can be a tricky concept to wield, especially in a modern setting. It is too easy for an author to get themselves out of a writing dead-end by merely making up some magical explanation. Courtney Smyth does not prescribe to this method and instead uses magical realism to give the book a strong crime centre. The Undetectables may be witches and a ghost, but they are also all scientists and use these logical methods, with a magical twist, to investigate. The type of police procedural work seen in The Rivers of London books but applied to the PI genre.
Although grounded, this book does not lack in magic. The town of Wrackton is steeped in the stuff. Smyth deftly introduces us to a world like our own, but one in which magical beings have come into the open and live, if not side by side, at least cordially with humans. There is a sense of a real place with depth that the story sits on top of. Smyth does not overindulge on the world building, but you know that in future outings there will be plenty to explore.
I was impressed with the magical crime investigation and world building, but for many it will be the characters that are the highlight. Despite the ritualistic murders, this is a light and comedic book and a lot of this is due to the characters and their relationships with one another. The three witches have that easy banter you expect from long term friends, slipping back into it with ease although they have not been together for two years. The character of Theodore is also great, a reluctant ghost who becomes one of the teams’ best assets.
At over 400 pages, this is a longer Urban Fantasy novel, but it uses the space to build characters. Further outings can use this foundation to produce slightly slicker stories. Once the action hots up, the reader is taken on a fun thrill ride. I was able to figure out who the killer was in this case, but it did not detract from their frothing conclusion. If you are looking for a fun and breezy Urban fantasy novel that has an interesting take on using magical forensics, The Undetectables fits the bill.
Written on 28th September 2023 by Sam Tyler .