Imagine if J. R. R. Tolkien and Phillip Marlowe collaborated on a novel- a little bit of epic fantasy in the background, set against a city dealing with rampant crime and economic catastrophe. That's what Tee Morris has done with the Billibub Baddings mystery series — you might call it fantasy-mystery-noir, if you really have to put a genre title to it.
The series started with The Case of the Singing Sword, which was released in paperback one year ago. In it, we meet Billibub Baddings, a dwarven warrior snatched from his own world of Acryonis and transported to Chicago in 1929. We got to watch Billi adjust to his new surroundings, learn a little about us, and start working as a private investigator. We also find out that Billi isn't all that our world has received from Acryonis — magical talismans have been sent here, to keep them safe from those who would use them to destroy and enslave. Unfortunately, there are plenty of those people here, too, and Billi takes it on himself to keep the talismans away from them, too.
Pitcher's Pendant opens in 1930, as Chicago (and the rest of the country) tries to recover from the stock market crash. Billi is looking for a good, solid case to help keep his business going, and it shows up in the person of Joe McCarthy, the manager of the Chicago Cubs. There's a new team in the league, and McCarthy feels that there is something not quite right with them — a team of rookies and unknowns who are dominating the league. Billi agrees, if for no other reason than to get paid to watch baseball. But it quickly becomes obvious that McCarthy is right — there really is more to this new team than meets the eye.
I was introduced to the Billibub Baddings series through Morris' podcast. I started off listening to one episode a week (delivered by Podiobooks.com right to iTunes), then went to twice a week. By the time I'd gotten halfway through, I was listening to an episode a day, sometimes two. It was addictive.
So as soon as I found out there was a sequel coming out, I knew I had to read it. So I managed a review copy (thanks, Tee!). I decided to pace myself, and just read a chapter a day. I sat down to read the first chapter, and the next thing I knew I'd read three. And that's how it went with this book — I absolutely could not put it down. I read the last six chapters in one sitting, and was up until something like two in the morning. I've read books where the plot pulled me before. Pitcher's Pendant pushes you. It drives you, you simply HAVE to know what happens next, and every chapter ends with a good cliffhanger. Morris knows how to capture an audience, and this book does exactly that. And don't even get me started about the ending, which demands a sequel.
One of my pet peeves in fiction is the main character that I don't really care about. Maybe it's the first-person narration, or maybe it's the depth of characterization, but Billi is an easy character to care about. The people around him are easy to care about, even if we don't know that much about them. We care because they're friends of Billi's — if they're good enough for him, they're good enough for us.
Tee Morris' Billibub Baddings series is a bright spot in independent fiction. And on August 8, 2008, it hits Amazon. Morris has teamed up with fellow novelist Philippa Ballentine (whose novelDigital Magic also hits Amazon on that date) to make a run up the best seller list. He's asked that anyone who wants to purchase the book not preorder, but wait until the 8th to buy it. Matthew Wayne Selznick did something similar recently with his debut book Brave Men Run, finishing at #53 at Amazon.com. By doing this, small-press authors hope to attract more mainstream attention and increase the audience for their books. My review of Digital Magic is coming soon — be sure that you don't miss this opportunity to get these two outstanding books.