Written by: Nikki Nelson-Hicks
Published by: Pro Se Press
Before you ask it’s pronounced Ishten-Hedgy. Which begs the question just what is an Istenhegyi? And finally how do you accidentally become a detective? Not just any detective either, going by the cover art an old fashioned gumshoe, more Hammet than Chandler, with a revolver in one coat pocket and a black jack in the other. Well the Istenhegyi is a Jake, a young Hungarian immigrant whose family had the sense to get him out of the country as fascism and the Nazis started to stretch their dirty little fingers into Hungarian politics during the thirties. Jake’s not exactly a refugee though, when his uncle, the black sheep of the family passed away he inherited The Odyssey Shop a book and antiquities store in New Orleans. Actually he inherited the whole building, The Odyssey Shop on the ground floor, his apartment on the second floor and the third floor is rented out to Barrington Gunn Private Investigations. Maybe rented is a strong word, more like occupied.
That leads us to the answer to the second question of how do you accidentally become a detective. Bear, as Barrington Gunn is called, is a WWI vet turned P.I. who molds himself after the private detectives from B-movies and pulp magazines of the time. To make up for the non-existent rent Bear schools Jake on the art of private investigation as it stands in the late thirties. Not that it’s an occupation Jake really has any inclination of picking up in a serious way, he’s got the store to take care of after all. So when Bear goes missing it’s up to Jake to look into it. Bear is not only his only friend in New Orleans but if something has happened to him he never will pay the rent.
Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective Volume 1 is a collection of three stories. A Chick, A Dick and a Witch Walk into a Barn followed by Golems, Goons and Stone Cold Bitches and finally Boo Daddies, Bogs and a Dead Man’s Booty. I have to confess that I was not that enthused looking at the cover art of the book. The cover by Jeffry Hayes is actually quite good and I don’t quite understand how I come to this conclusion but somehow I got the impression that this would just be some bad Harry Dresden knockoff, full of zombies and vampires which I’ve never been that partial to. Turning the book over though and reading through the blurb it started to sound interesting.
First off this is no knock off of anything I’ve read. Istenhegyi is a unique character. A not only an accidental but somewhat reluctant detective. Jake and Bear’s relationship may be reminiscent of Rex Stout’s Wolfe and Goodwin or maybe a better example would be Glen Cook’s Garret and the Dead Man, and of course the whole feel of the stories in a tribute to all of those great pulp detective stories. There are elements of contemporary, in this case not strictly contemporary, fantasy and I guess you would have to say a touch of horror, but it is all blended so excellently that it comes across as fresh and exciting. Nikki Nelson-Hicks’ prose is clear and straightforward and she has a knack of answering a question with more questions. There is some mystery around Jake’s background and whenever she reveals something it just makes you more curious about the rest of the story that is still hidden. In just three stories and a little over two hundred pages she has managed to build a fascinating mythology around this unconventional detective agency and draw together a handful of what I hope to be recurring characters.
There are a few awkward moments, for example a scene where one of the characters can hear lighter fluid swishing around inside of a Zippo, and a couple of times where later events seem to alter things we had learned or picked up previously, but for the most part everything hangs together amazingly well. I find myself looking forward to the next Istenhegyi story Fish-Eyed Men, Fedoras, and Steel-Toed Pumps which was released earlier this month.