Review: Unicorn Precinct

by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Dark Quest Books, 2011

Lieutenants Torin ban Wyvald (human) and half-elf Danthres Tresyllione try to solve the murder of young bride-to-be Arra Cynnis – a member of one of Cliff’s End’s wealthiest aristocratic families. Complicating their investigation is the victim’s connection to one of the Castle Guard’s own – she was engaged to be married to another detective’s cousin – and the undue influence her obnoxious and shifty father has over the Lord of Cliff’s End.  Worse yet for our would-be heroes, there is magic afoot…

Keith DeCandido is perhaps best known for his prolific media tie-in work spanning multiple franchises, including Star Trek, Farscape, and Supernatural, among others. Unicorn Precinct is the second full-length novel in his original-universe fantasy police procedural series that started with Dragon Precinct (Pocket Books, 2004) and continued with several short stories before the publication of this latest installment. 

With his original-universe works, DeCandido has effectively created his own sub-genre by taking the tried-and-true police procedural format into new and interesting territory – including his Super City Police Department series set in a city full of superheroes, and this one, which follows the hardworking members of the Cliff’s End Castle Guard, basically your average police department, only in a fantasy setting full of elves, dwarves, wizards and magic.

Unicorn Precinct doesn’t take itself too seriously. For a murder mystery, the tone is exceptionally lighthearted. Tongue-in-cheek humor infuses almost every page of the novel.  At times, it’s laugh-out-loud funny. One place the humor occasionally wears thin, however, is in the characterization of Cliff’s End’s wealthy elite.  The upper-class characters rarely deviate from a single formula – almost to a one, they are obnoxious, weak, entitled, and self-absorbed. As a result, they are universally disrespected and disdained by the characters of more modest means, and even by each other. It’s mostly played for laughs, but after a while, the joke can start to feel a bit tired.

Fortunately, DeCandido is much more successful in his handling of the core characters, the lieutenants of the Castle Guard. The inner workings and minutiae of a large-town police department are deftly (if sometimes predictably) handled – the debates and sometimes petty bickering between the various members of the Guard feel reasonably authentic, and help to ground a story set in a universe that could easily seem too ethereal.

Verdict: Unicorn Precinct is a fantastical, funny twist on the traditional murder mystery, with many likable characters and enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. It’s worth checking out for those who enjoy DeCandido’s previous work, police procedurals, fantasy, comedy, or any combination thereof.  7/10

Kirsten Heffron

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