REVIEW: The Straight Razor Cure (Low Town) by Daniel Polansky

Having absolutely adored Polansky’s The Builders, Those Below, Those Above, and Tomorrow’s Children, I knew it was time to go back to where it began and read The Straight Razor Cure (published as Low Town in the American market). Like a mash up of if you unleashed Pierce Brown’s Effram from Iron Gold into the world of Peter McLean’s Priest of Bones, The Straight Razor Cure is a magnificent read.

Cover for The Straight Razor Cure (UK) also known as Low Town in the US marketSet in Low Town, the dingiest part of a post-war city much like London at the turn of the previous century, The Warden is an ex-soldier with a big cupboard of horrid memories from a war that stretched on for years and chewed through a few generations of people. Having then worked for the Special Operations of the police force straddling the line between murderer and investigator he now runs the local drug trade from a pub his friend from the war owns. He thinks he doesn’t care about people anymore—between becoming an orphan thanks to the great plague and witnessing the war from start to horror occult finish, he’s just about done caring about more than a few people—but when children start going missing on his turf, it’s time to do something about it.

Told in a gritty, grungy first-person style with more moral greyness than you could stab a trench blade at, The Straight Razor Cure is the perfect book for grimdark fantasy fans. The protagonist’s point of view is sad, and brutal, and horrifying, and yet also funny, cynical, and poignant, with on point social commentary ringing true to this day. I love the way his friends both bring out the best and worst in The Warden, with their own goals well told through their actions within his perspective. The world is well-lived in and thought out—something I think is one of Polansky’s well-established strengths. There is true depth there, despite us only getting to really see Low Town (with glimpses into a couple of timelines there), the trench lined battlefields from the war with the Dren, and one mansion in a richer area of the city. Leaning on the reader’s knowledge of WW1, The Black Death, and a few other parts of European history makes The Straight Razor Cure very easy to lean into and lose yourself in the story as you’re not trying to constantly map an completely unfamiliar world.

The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky is exactly what you need to read if you’re a fan of grimdark. If the gruff investigation into a seedy underworld where the rich treat those below them like animals to be used and tossed away while the poor scrap to survive, and seeing a smidge of light and laughter amongst the grit, is your reading jam, then I absolutely, unashamedly, cannot express how much this book needs to be in your TBR if it is already not so.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.