Even Though I Knew the End: Powerful setting and period piece

Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. PolkEven Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk

Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk Let me start with what I loved about C.L. Polk’s 2022 novella, Even Though I Knew the End. I loved the premise of the magical system at play here, and the story delivered a 1940s Chicago, Illinois, that was both familiar and convincingly strange. The Wink, a lesbian bar that has rolled through several incarnations in its lifetime, is a sheer delight of evocative description.

I liked the fast-moving plot and Polk’s spin on the hard-boiled detective story. Helen Brandt was a promising auspex or magical practitioner (her original area of expertise was astrology), destined to assist her brother in the Brotherhood of the Compass. When a car accident derailed her entire life, Helen made a decision that was anathema to the Brotherhood — and to many others in this world where conventional Christianity (presumably all organized religions) and magic live side-by-side. Now Helen works as a PI, most frequently for a mysterious, wealthy woman named Marlowe. Marlowe sends Helen to investigate a terrible murder and a deadly blood-magic ritual, and Helen soon figures out that someone is taking human souls. Helen needs to solve this quickly, for reasons that are carefully foreshadowed and deftly revealed.

Edith, a devout Catholic and brilliant photographer, is the love of Helen’s life, and she insists on helping Helen with the case. Helen also encounters her brother, now well-placed in the Brotherhood — and those meetings are, to put it mildly, uncomfortable. With demons, soul-bargains and rogue angels, the story carries the feel of a mean-streets-Chicagoan detective story, barreling down to a bittersweet noirish ending.

Aspects of the plot and world-building will seem very familiar, especially to fans of the show Supernatural. Polk’s characters and world-building put enough of a slant on those aspects that it didn’t bother me. Edith got short shrift in this tale, though. Other than the fact that Helen loves her, and she’s a “good” person (birds perch on her fingers when she feeds them at the window, for instance) neither she nor the relationship is deeply developed. It’s clear early that each woman holds a serious secret from the other — I wish that aspect had been explored in more depth. The novella gives most of its attention to the plot, but I wish I could have seen a deeper emotional involvement between these two women, and more discussion of what Helen’s choices mean for them — especially in light of the very ending. To be fair, for important plot reasons, Edith can’t get much time on the page.

At the end, Helen is a convincingly battered paladin, her tarnished armor providing exactly enough contrast for the hypocrisy of the always-right Brotherhood, a nice noir avatar for Chicago’s cold and gritty streets. Even Though I Knew the End was an intriguing read that held my interest, and I loved this world. A bonus was the book’s beautiful cover. Fans of Polk’s work won’t be disappointed.

Published in November 2022. A magical detective dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life. This sapphic period piece will dazzle anyone looking for mystery, intrigue, romance, magic, or all of the above. An exiled augur who sold her soul to save her brother’s life is offered one last job before serving an eternity in hell. When she turns it down, her client sweetens the pot by offering up the one payment she can’t resist―the chance to have a future where she grows old with the woman she loves. To succeed, she is given three days to track down the White City Vampire, Chicago’s most notorious serial killer. If she fails, only hell and heartbreak await.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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