The Undetectables (Courtney Smyth) / Bloom (Delilah S. Dawson) – Titan Books Review

We take a look at a couple of the newest and more diverse releases from Titan Books.

The Undetectables (Courtney Smyth)

It’s a pleasing fact that more and more stories are being released that incorporate a diverse voice into the writing, whether that’s having a spectrum of characters from different backgrounds, or highlighting and promoting Own Voices books across all genres. One such is The Undetectables, a queer whodunnit that takes place in a version of the world where supernatural and non-magical folk live, tentatively, side by side.

The Undetectables, the debut from Courtney Smyth, follows a trio of investigators in a sleepy English town – forensics expert Mallory, entomologist Cornelia, and general genius Diana – as they reunite following a rocky period to investigate a serial killer who induces his victims to bite their own tongues off before dying. It’s a macabre concept, worthy of a BBC crime drama, and it’s down to Smyth’s tonal balance that it never becomes grim, instead juggling the darkness with a wholesome warmth from the characters.

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The entire book is gloriously, unapologetically queer, with a central, unrequited romance between two of the investigators and plenty of diverse, queer representation across the entire length of the novel (after all when you’re dealing with fae and supernatural creatures, what even is gender really?).

Smyth is more than adept at giving heart and nuance to our primary cast of characters, whether it’s the fractious, loving dynamic between the three investigators, or Mallory’s own complicated relationship with her body as she struggles with fibromyalgia. Best of all might be Theodore, a ghost who is tied to the Undetectables’ detective agency, and must endure not only an ephemeral existence, but also the fact that he died whilst dressed as a Hallowe’en cat.

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It’s therefore a bit of a shame that the actual mystery that makes up the majority of The Undetectables‘ plot falls a bit flat. Readers who’ve read their fair share of mysteries will, before long, be able to work out the culprit, and the ending, in which all is revealed, falls prey to a lack of resolution on some key plot points and some uneven plot structure towards the final act.

Ultimately, however, The Undetectables is an entertaining, light-hearted mystery novel with an engaging group of characters and a solid sense of worldbuilding. The ending seems primed for launching a sequel and if Smyth continues with the same core group of sympathetic, likeable leads, and works on improving the next mystery for them to investigate, this could be the auspicious start of a new fan-favourite series.

The Undetectables is out on 26th September from Titan Books.

Bloom (Delilah S. Dawson)

As much as one might not want to explore them in the real world, there’s an entire sheaf of readers who can’t help but read about toxic romances and their thorny, debilitating effects. Whether that’s the abusive dynamics in a Colleen Hoover or Anna Todd book, or the horror implications wrought to fruition such as Stephen King’s Rose Madder, there’s always been a market for exploring dark romances and toxic dynamics. There’s even notable queer examples, whether that’s in non-fiction (Carmen Maria Muchado’s In The Dream House), literary fiction (Micah Nemerever’s These Violent Delights), or even horror, as in the case of Delilah S. Dawson’s new novella Bloom.

Bloom follows two people – Ash and Ro -who meet at a farmer’s market, fall head over heels in love, and soon darkness begins to cloud the relationship. It’s an unabashedly queer book, exploring the power negotiations with any relationship and filtering it through a queer lens to explore what happens when an uneven power dynamic turns positively poisonous.

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Dawson’s writing style is evocative, sharp, and precise, combining images of bucolic beauty with underlying horror, like blood staining perfectly packaged floral soap. Ro is adrift and searching for meaning following a distancing from her family, while Ash is serene and confident, a cottagecore siren with enviable hair and a malignant aura underneath it all, and the two of them are mesmerising as they pull one another towards destruction, the seeds of a dark flower reaching the height of its twisted beauty.

The horror in Bloom, when it comes, is quietly menacing, rather than full-bodied histrionics – Dawson is clearly more interested in dread than scares. There are several grisly scenes that are far more focused on mood and feeling than shocking you, but when the blood does come, it’s enough to steal away the breath of the reader and leave them with a feeling of bittersweet satisfaction at having seen the story reach its darkest, yet seemingly inevitable conclusion.

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With a love story at its heart that is both toxic and intoxicating, Bloom more than fills its premise of a dark queer romance. While it sags in the middle a little due to some pacing issues, it’s still a bleak, creeping tale that accomplishes a lot in its relatively small page count. It won’t be suitable for every reader, but those looking for an intense, brutal and dark look at co-dependent and toxic relationships, Bloom will happily fit the bill.

Bloom is out on 3rd October from Titan Books.

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