The Witness For The Dead
reviewed by Lou Jacobs
An immersive detective novel utilizing the fantasy motif, rivalling the best Sherlock Holmes adventure. The main protagonist is Thara Celehar, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. At age thirteen he was ushered into this religious sect, and trained as a novitiate.
He has mastered his calling by touching the corpse of the newly deceased. He can “talk” with them and actually at times is dragged into their memories at death. At times his duties supply identity and cause of death—accidental or the all to often murder. Celehar was a minor character in the beloved and highly acclaimed and award winning novel: The Goblin Emperor.
This tale is actually a stand-alone occurring in the same universe as the preceding novel. The same lush world building is again on display in this gem. Utilizing the same byzantine type of political and court intrigue in the face of racial and social tension. The inhabitants of this world are the elven, held in higher esteem than the goblin folk, and there are those of mixed heritage.
Celehar has been appointed a position of Witness for the Dead in the city of Amalo, far from the court, and expected to oversee the entire city. His presence stirs up an inordinate amount of animosity and jealousy in the local politicians. He is a kind, decent and unassuming man, who only wishes to find the truth, which frequently is inconvenient and sometimes has disastrous results. His skills in addition to finding identity, frequently aid in resolving disputes, and finding the killers of the murdered.
Sara Monette under the pseudonym of Katherine Addision weaves a convoluted and evocative narrative with a multitude of unexpected reveals as our intrepid detective investigates and interrogates with perceptive and deductive skills that astound. The pacing is propulsive leading to a rapid page-turner. This character driven drama revolves around solution of three mysteries. Initially he is petitioned by the brother in the unexplained death of his pregnant sister. He is concerned and suspects she was murdered by her husband. Inshiran was a lifelong and content spinster and an avid birdwatcher (often described “as dull as a door knob”). She met Crois Avelonaran, quit her job , eloped, and was pregnant in 6 months and dead in 9 months. He was petitioned to find her grave and “speak with her” In the second mystery he was petitioned to find the identity and cause of death when a young elven woman, no more than thirty, is pulled from the canal. She appeared to be a lady of means, based upon appearances and clothes. Upon touching her forehead he immediately learned that she was bludgeoned and pushed into the canal. Her identity and causation of murder unknown ( but would result in an intricate and thorough investigation by Celehar). And, lastly he was requested to aid in the dispute of who the rightful heir would be, in a upper class family, when two wills appear. He is able to discern this by reconnoitering with the deceased ashes. Which unfortunately will lead to substantial problems for Celehar. The least of those, being called upon to “quiet” a ghoul, who is feeding on the alive as well dead.
Addison expertly explores multiple themes, such as hypocrisy, revenge, retaliation. race and social status with her amazingly intricate world building and characterization skills. Intrigue and treachery percolate throughout the narrative. Again, it is not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy and devour this captivating tale. Monette / Addison are a welcome addition to my author must read list.
Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan- Tor / Forge for supplying an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review.