by James P. Blaylock
Cover Artist: J. K. Potter
Review by Mel Jacob
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596068384
Date: 30 September 2017 List Price $40.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
River's Edge by James P. Blaylock takes the reader into another time as Layton St. Ives searches for evidence of environmental contamination by a local paper mill. Little does he expect to find his wife and a friend accused of murder and facing hanging by a rabid mob.
Blaylock is noted for his steampunk fantasies and his series of short stories. One such collection features Landon St. Ives. Professor St. Ives has a combined family of his children, a couple of strays, and an elephant all living happily together in the English countryside. They are friends with an environmentalist concerned over pollution effects from the effluents of the local paper mill. The runoff causes mutations in aquatic creatures and poisons the water.
The mill produces high quality paper and employs female workers called Paper Dolls. The Paper Dolls also are adept at making origami figures for visitors. Daisy is especially good at making peacocks, not a simple task. (Note: www.origami-resource-center.com/birds.html shows how complicated a task this is.)
A union is trying to organize the mill workers and bargain over wages and health issues. The fumes from the chemicals used to make paper cause illnesses among some of the women. Daisy, one such worker, is terminated with a sum to help re-establish herself elsewhere. Later her body is found by the river.
Witnesses saw Daisy leave the inn with a man, but his face was hidden by her trunk on his shoulder. The union man is charged with her murder and hung. Because the man had no motive, St. Ives is convinced he was innocent. He believes a mill workman did it and suspects the mill owners might be involved.
Meanwhile, someone, possibly connected to the mill, is trying to discredit the environmentalist, Mother Laswell, with a broadsheet containing pictures of witches holding unholy rites, including sacrificing a baby. A photographer had taken pictures during a celebration at the home of Mother Laswell and it appears some of his shots were used in the broadsheet. Her husband goes after the photographer and a fight ensues.
When the photographer is stabbed by an assailant and dies, Mother Laswell's husband is arrested. However, he denies killing anyone. St. Ives does not believe the charge is true. He stumbles across a young lad who worked for the photographer and might know what happened. However, the boy is afraid of the police.
St. Ives' wife, Alice, is arrested, and a warrant for murdering the baby is issued for Mother Laswell who manages to escape the police. St. Ives' is determined to clear his wife's name as well as those of Mother Laswell and her husband.
Blaylock provides plenty of excitement especially with the possible hanging of Alice. He offers a great climactic scene involving the St. Ives menagerie and the elephant. However, the reader may feel a bit disconnected from the characters in part because of the formality of Blaylock's style. In addition to several story collections, he has written several novels alone and in partnerships with others.