Simon R. Green, Swords of Haven (Ace, 2006)
Swords of Haven and Guards of Haven are trade paper omnibuses of the Hawk & Fisher series. The first volume consists s of Hawk & Fisher, Winner Take All, and The God Killer. (The first two novels had alternate titles in the U.K. -- Hawk and Fisher was No Haven for the Guilty, and Winner Takes All was The Devil Take the Hindmost. (See my note below for why I think changing titles is not a good idea.)
In an essay we published some years ago, Michael Jones said of the main characters that 'Hawk and Isobel Fisher are Captains in the City Guard of Haven, a hive of scum and villainy as such you've never seen. Treachery is common, bribery a way of life, murder an understatement, and danger a given. Into that world, insert two incorruptible cops with a passionate love for one another, and a passionate hatred of everything that gets in their way.' In some ways, Haven reminds me of Blüdhaven, the city where Robin would, in the DV universe, become Nightwing. The primary difference is that life in Haven is even cheaper, more disposable, than it is in Blüdhaven. It might even be as corrupt as Cynosure, the multi-dimensional city where Grimjack lives. It is not as corrupt or dangerous as that of Nightside, the setting of a later Green series.
I've been trying to think of husband and wife detective teams in fiction. My conclusion was that there aren't a lot -- Nick and Nora Charles in Hammett's The Thin Man series came to mind, as do Poul Anderson's Steve (a werewolf) and Virginia (a witch) who fight the Nazis and the Saracen Caliphrate in a reality where magic is quite real. Indeed the latter, who show up in Operation Chaos (1971) and Operation Luna (1999), share similarities with Hammett's characters which are, perhaps, not entirely accidental. Hawk and Fisher are not cut of the same cloth at all! Though their backstory has them of royal blood, they are most decidedly not the gentlest or kindest of being one might encounter!
Hawk and Isobel Fisher came to the sea port city of Haven having escaped their pasts as Prince Rupert of the Forest Kingdom and Princess Julia of Hillsdown. Julia was intended to marry Rupert's brother, a nasty cad if ever there was one, but instead he sacrifices her to a dragon -- just what one does with a virgin one supposes. The dragon neglected to eat her, not really being that sort of a fellow, and instead kept her around until Rupert came by to rescue her. (No, he didn't kill the dragon. Nor did the dragon have a horde of gold.) Having made a mess of the heroic quest he was supposed to accomplish, they then proceeded to get caught in a war and eventually just left to escape their, errrr, reputations. Want to know more? Go read the Blue Moon Rising novel! (But not now! See below for why!)
Now a digression. Isobel Fisher is a tall woman with a long blond braid who is described by Green as 'handsome rather than beautiful', and deadly with a sword, and Hawk who has white streaked dark hair, a scarred face with only one eye, is described by Green as 'tall, dark and no longer handsome'. So who the Hell picked the cover art? No, it isn't by any means the artistic equivalent of Götterdämmerung, but it's a pity that the artist and/or editor who decided on this illustration hadn't paid attention to how Green describes them:
Now let's simply note that Fisher never wears skin tight leather (!) nor does Hawk carry a sword as he only uses an axe. Oh, well... Fortunately the stories themselves, all novellas, are quite good. These tales are part of The Forest Kingdom series which includes Blue Moon Rising (1991), Blood and Honour (1992), and Beyond the Blue Moon (2000), which covers the story of the Forest Kingdom where our sort of heroes originated, and a on-off sort of dark horror outing, Down Among the Dead Men (1993). Do not read the first three novels before reading the Haven stories, as they definitely contain spoilers about just who Hawk and Fisher are! Down Among the Dead Men contains no spoilers at all, and is a classic among the genre of 'nasty things in the night that you don't want to encounter ever. And our couple in these mysteries are something which you don't want to encounter either if you're on the wrong side of the law in Haven. they tough, almost merciless because Haven itself is quite unforgiving.
Let's have Michael Jones, an avid Simon R. Green fan, comment on Haven
Now what we have in Swords of Haven is three tightly plotted fantasy mysteries -- grimmer than Glen Cook's Garret P.I. series but not as grim as Green's Nightside novels, as Hawk & Fisher has a sense of humor, however perverse it might be. Deservedly so I will add! Hawk & Fisher introduces the reader to these characters and the city -- neither of which is what you'd expect in a fantasy series of this sort, as Green infuses everything of a sort of neo-socialist politics of a city state so corrupt that even its soul is rotting away. Now add in that the Gods, both minor and major, are very real and always petty brats with immense power, and that even their fellow City Guards can be bought very cheap. Not ideal circumstances for living long if you're a honest copper!
My favorite of these stories is 'Wolf in the Fold' which has Hawk & Fisher up against a castle full of suspects while trying to find which one is a murderer in a type of story. Note that Green will refer in later series to the events portrayed in the adventures of Hawk and Isobel Fisher in this series and the Forest Kingdom books without actually mentioning them by name. I always find it fascinating how interconnectedall of Green's tales are -- indeed I will stress once again in this review that these novels are better read after you read Blue Moon Rising and Blood and Honour, the Forest Kingdom books that precede their time in Haven. After you read Swords of Haven and Guards of Haven, do read Beyond the Blue Moon which effectively warps their tale in a satisfying manner.
I will not detail the mysteries here, as you should discover them for yourself. All are decently written -- and in their original form, as Green should have edited out the parts that repeat each novel such as the descriptions of Hawk and Fisher -- and fast reads. No, I wouldn't say they are as well-written as the novels as his Nightside and Secret Histories series, as I believe Green is better writer now than he was at this point in his life. The Haven series is, as I remembered when re-reading, ideal reading for a winters evening when it's cold outside and you want a good, fast, and entertaining read which is both a mystery and a fantasy!