The King of Swords
THE KING OF SWORDS, Nick Stone’s sophomore effort
following the critically acclaimed MR. CLARINET, prompts the
question “What the heck is Stone doing?” and deservedly
so. It also contains its own answer: “Who knows, but I
can’t wait to find out!”
MR. CLARINET was set in Haiti in the mid-1990s and concerned an
ex-cop turned private investigator named Max Mingus, who had done
hard time for murder. A prequel to this debut, THE KING OF SWORDS
takes place in tumultuous 1981 Miami. Max Mingus is a cop assigned
to the Miami police task force, set up to deal with the criminal
aftermath of the Muriel boat lift. He and his partner, Joe Liston,
are a salt-and-pepper team and best friends, despite being
opposites. Liston is fairly straight arrow, while Mingus is not
above administering the justice that is occasionally denied by the
They are tasked with a project aimed at the heart of the
burgeoning cocaine trade occuring in Miami, even as a series of
mass murders begin, seemingly tied to voodoo and the sudden influx
of Haitian immigrants in the wake of the Cuban exodus. Their murder
investigation leads them slowly but inexorably into the world of a
mysterious and crazed fortune teller, and then to her consort, the
enigmatic and deadly Solomon Boukman, the most feared criminal in
Miami. Physically deformed --- some say deliberately so --- and
with the apparent power to alter his appearance at will, Boukman
will change Mingus’s life in ways he does not foresee. At the
heart of it all is a rare tarot deck, one that foretells victory or
disaster with but the turn of a single card, the King of Swords.
When this card foreshadows disaster for Boukman, it leads to a
cataclysmic climax, one with dire consequences for both Boukman and
Mingus, as well as for the city of Miami.
Nick Stone’s methodology reminds me of what Marion Zimmer
Bradley did with her Darkover novels. These were written
and published significantly out of chronological sequence, yet was
done deliberately and effectively. The same applies here: there is
a shadow over each and every event in this book, cast by MR.
CLARINET. The latter told of events that took place in Mr.
Clarinet’s past but after THE KING OF SWORDS. Thus we
know that Solomon Boukman will not stay in prison; that the life
envisioned by Susan, at the conclusion of this most recent novel,
will not come to pass; that Mingus will surrender to his dark side,
albeit for good reason, but with dire consequences. While the tale
told in each of these books is complete in and of itself, there is
so much more yet to be written.
THE KING OF SWORDS initially appears to be unwieldy, overlong
and crammed with unnecessary detail. Don’t believe it for a
minute. Pay attention to every bit of minutiae contained here; it
will become important at some point in the future.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011