RogerBW's Blog

The Witness for the Dead, Katherine Addison 10 April 2022

2021 fantasy. Thara Celehar is a witness for the dead, a priest who can retrieve some memories of the recently-deceased. Having been of some slight assistance to the emperor, he's moved away as far as he can from the court and politics, and just wants to be able to do his job…

So yes this is a fantasy murder mystery, by an author whose fantasy I already liked (and in the world of The Goblin Emperor, which in particular I very much enjoyed). That's pretty much a book aimed directly at me to start with. But it's also a story of character, of how trying to be a good person works both for and against one; and a story of society, in that this very alien world has still had to invent something like the concept of police, and indeed has to have investigators into cases of possible murder.

"My name is Thara Celehar, and I am a Witness for the Dead, witnessing for Min Arveneän Shelsin."

(Yes, as in The Goblin Emperor the names and titles are alien. I found I got used to it pretty quickly.)

There are in fact two murders to be solved here, in quite different segments of society, and witnesses and other involved people to be interviewed, and even some friends to be made. And of course politics still comes into it: witnessing a dead someone's intentions when there's a question of who faked their will is always going to make some enemies, and this isn't a world with convenient magical truth-saying. (One feels that the idea of the rule of law is still a relatively recent and insecure one here, and plenty of people are surprised at the thought that it should apply to them too.)

"He has a book," said Osmer Thilmerezh. "The author claims that anyone can quiet a ghoul."

That seemed an almost suicidal belief, and I had to bite my lip to keep from saying so.

"We cannot find [him]," said the mayor, "and we are very much afraid that he is attempting to prove his theory."

If there's a flaw it's that there's no catharsis; Celehar is largely uncaring about what happens to him, and while there's a hint that he's making some progress, he's still essentially unhappy at the end as he was at the beginning. Ah well; Addison/Monette doesn't really do unalloyed happiness, at least in the books I've read so far.

I knew immediately, as one sometimes knows things that cannot be proved, that if he had killed Min Shelsin, her body would never have been found and I would never have come to this jewel-like room.

Splendid stuff, and another really excellent book I've read this year.

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