Publisher: Black Library
Genre: SF Crime
Publication Date: 2021
There are no xenos in Varangantua. No daemons prowl the streets at night. But that does not mean there are no monsters. The city is rife with killers, from crimes of passion to sadistic murders. Because sometimes the worst monsters in the world, are people . . .
The third Warhammer Crime novel pushes things further than previous offerings, giving us one of the bleakest, most chilling Black Library books to date. Chilling in more ways than one. Grim Repast takes us to the Polaris region of Varangantua, a decidedly frosty part of the city, and one brilliantly illustrated on the front cover. The cold climate enhances the noir feeling that all of these books have, and it’s all too easy to picture Grim Repast in a full-screen, black and white experience.
Today’s probator is Quillon Drask, an individual last seen in the short story ‘Cold Cases.’ You don’t need to have read that short to enjoy this, but I would strongly recommend it. The important details are sketched out in this book, but ‘Cold Cases’ lays a lot of the groundwork for Drask’s characterisation in this novel. And that characterisation is the strongest thing this book has going for it. Previous protagonists have been diligent workers, trying to do their best in a hopeless world. Drask, in contrast, is a broken man, both physically and psychologically. He is a human testament to the toll life in Varangantua takes on the soul. It’s fair to say that we get more of an insight into Drask’s mind than we did Zidarov or Noctis. Sometimes this feels more like a protracted character study rather than a crime thriller, but that works in the book’s favour.
It’s not just Drask who is a broken man. This book is all about the broken nature of Imperial society. How the wealthy exploit the poor, how the lawkeepers are just as corrupt as the gangs they alternate between hunting and treating with. Life in Varangantua is depressing, and you can only assume it’s a similar tale told countless times across the Imperium of Man. This is a book in which not even the illusion of hope exists, because when the most powerful people in the city can get away with anything, what role is there for the law other than the enforcement of a broken system? This isn’t a book that delves deeply into the politics of the question, but the question is asked nonetheless.
All that misery can grow stale, however, and for much of the first act Grim Repast feels like a retread of what we have seen before. That’s the problem when a series has such a consistent tone. It’s hard to break out with something new. I love the crime range, but there are only so many stories of probators investigating conspiracies that I can take before I want a change. That change comes in the latter half of Grim Repast. I won’t go into spoilers, because the shock is part of the appeal. But Collins goes into some dark, dark territory. The Custom of the Void is appealingly ghoulish, and the killer’s lair leads to one of the best, most tense encounters of the entire crime range. If you liked Haley’s servitor-factory, then Collins has something that you’ll like even more. I know I did. It’s gruesome, it’s haunting, and in the context of Varangantua, it’s all too plausible.
Overall, Grim Repast continues the Warhammer Crime range’s run of strong novels, and hopefully heralds more to come, both from the setting as a whole, and from Collins in particular.