The Curse of Four was my first introduction to Caitlin Kittredge’s Black London series. Most of the work in this series is novel-length but the Curse of Four, offered by Subterranean Press, is a novella. Based on this story, I definitely want to read the longer books.
The Curse of Four features a strange and attractive cover. I am a slow study, so I stared at the misty, gray-and-golden images of crows on headstones for a minute before I realized it was a T-shirt design on the torso of a standing man, his face in shadow, his hair Billy-Idol bright. This is Jack Winter, cleaned-up junkie, front man for a legendary punk rock band, psychic, and wizard.
Kittredge employs an interesting point of view in The Curse of Four. Most of it is Jack’s, in very close third-person, but she alternates it with an authorial voice that engages the reader directly. (“There are plenty of ghosts in London, if you know where to look.”) This can be difficult to pull off without looking self-consciously arty, but Kittredge manages it.
Jack shares an apartment and possibly more with a woman detective named Pete Caldecott, but he doesn’t much care for cops, and he is rude when the vacationing Pete’s partner shows up asking for help investigating a murder with supernatural overtones. He agrees, however, and is shocked to discover that the victim is a woman from his past, someone who was involved in dangerous sex magic when he knew her. He finds a fetish in her personal effects, something used to bind a ghost to a magician.
Almost immediately there are more murders. Jack is no longer a consultant but the prime suspect. He has to deal not only with the police and the flesh-and-blood sorcerer who is turning ghosts against their bond, but the ghosts themselves — Aleister Crowley and Rasputin as a start.
Part of the intrigue in urban fantasy is meeting the strange crossroads-dwelling characters each writer invents. Kittredge doesn’t disappoint with Gemma, Jack’s old supplier, who sells mundane street drugs and magical paraphernalia, and the staff of the black magic club Memento.
You had to look past what the eye could discern to see the blot, the stain on the place. It was a halo of filth and pain that hovered like a crown of blowflies over a dead body. It shimmered the air under Jack’s sight, distorted it like heat waves. There was a lot of bad juju in the air of Memento Mori, and Jack intended to go inside and find out who made it that way. Or what.
Jack grew up in council housing and still nurses the wounds of a childhood of hopelessness. This is what drew him, presumably, both to black magic and punk rock. He is still angry, one sentence away from erupting, and the action sequences crackle with intensity. And, sometimes, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, especially when he trusts a person he told us earlier he would never turn his back on. He also manages to get out of a couple of tight situations with relative ease. Some of these problems seem to have to do with the length of the story. I think the escapes would challenge Jack more in a full-length book.
One more comment on language. If you are offended by a four-letter word starting with “C” that refers to female genitalia, be aware it shows up on practically every page in this book as a swear word. Fair warning.
The Curse of Four is full of ghosts, those that inhabit London and the ones that fill our awake-at-three-a.m. memories. Jack is a haunted wizard in a haunted city, and I want to see more of them both.
Black London — (2009-2013) Publisher: Her name is Pete Caldecott. She was just sixteen when she met Jack Winter, a gorgeous, larger-than-life mage who thrilled her with his witchcraft. Then a spirit Jack summoned killed him before Pete’s eyes — or so she thought. Now a detective, Pete is investigating the case of a young girl kidnapped from the streets of London. A tipster’s chilling prediction has led police directly to the child… but when Pete meets the informant, she’s shocked to learn he is none other than Jack. Strung out on heroin, Jack a shadow of his former self. But he’s able to tell Pete exactly where Bridget’s kidnappers are hiding: in the supernatural shadow-world of the fey. Even though she’s spent years disavowing the supernatural, Pete follows Jack into the invisible fey underworld, where she hopes to discover the truth about what happened to Bridget — and what happened to Jack on that dark day so long ago…