TOURQUAI, wonderfully written by Tim Davys and skillfully translated by Paul Norlen, is the third in a projected series of four crime novels that take place in an alternate world that reflects our own reality. The books are set in a municipality known as Mollisan Town, which is populated and governed by stuffed animals. There are countless little touches throughout the series that are both charming and unforgettable. Here’s just one: hospital operating rooms are stocked with sewing machines. No matter how outlandish the premise may be, the execution of it is firmly grounded.
Mollisan Town is comprised of four former municipalities that have merged together to form one city, though each retains its own identity as a neighborhood. The names of these areas comprise a title for each of the four volumes in the series, which include the previously published AMBERVILLE and LANCEHEIM, and the forthcoming YOK. The core of each book also deals with a concept. The first two concerned good and evil, while the latest focuses on the issue of faith. At its heart, though, is a classic mystery of the almost (but not quite) locked-room variety.
Oswald Vulture, a wealthy venture capitalist, is found beheaded in his office. There is no sign of a murder weapon or forced entry, and, worse, his head is nowhere to be found. This latter point is significant; if Vulture’s head is located within an amount of time --- determined on a case-by-case basis by an agency known as The Chauffeurs --- it can be re-attached and Vulture will be (almost) as good as new.
It seems that there is no lack of individuals, involved in the incident or otherwise, who hope that Vulture’s head remains separated from his body, even as Police Superintendent Larry Bloodhound goes through the dyspeptic motions of figuring things out. He is aided in the process by the members of his law enforcement team, which consists of Anna Lynx and Falcon Ecu, along with his unlikely friend Philip Mouse, a private detective who keeps his finger on the pulse of the street.
Naturally, everyone has their own problems. Bloodhound has impulse control issues and a secret at home. Lynx is a single mother who is perhaps too eager to interfere in her best friend’s marriage. Ecu is finding it difficult to establish lasting relationships, not only with his associates but also with his wardrobe. Nonetheless, they pursue a number of likely suspects, including Emanuelle Cobra, the victim’s secretary; Jasmine Squirrel, his mistress; Igor Panda, an unscrupulous art dealer with an unexpected tie to Vulture; and Oleg Earwig, an inventor who Vulture may have conned, albeit perfectly legally, out of a fortune. As unique as the whole concept of Mollisan Town may be, Davys never goes for too long without reminding you that there is indeed a murder mystery at the heart of all of this, one that will keep you guessing almost until the end. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, but you are going to have to read the book to find out precisely what I mean by “accurate.”
TOURQUAI, mystery notwithstanding, does not fit easily into a particular genre --- there’s even a bit of kink in here that is quite interesting, stuffed animals or not --- but if you’re willing to jump into it feet first and get acclimated for a few pages, you’ll be rewarded. And you may feel a bit uneasy when you come to realize that in some ways the world of Mollisan Town seems every bit as real as our own.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 28, 2011