Title: A Chick, A Dick, and a Witch Walk Into a Barn (A Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective short story)
Publisher: Pro Se Press
Author: Nikki Nelson-Hicks
Jake Istenhegyi is an accidental detective. A Hungarian refugee who fled his homeland one step ahead of fascist invaders — and who still bears the physical and psychological scars — he eventually made his way to New Orleans. There, he took over his uncle’s bookstore and cafe. Just the kind of quiet life he prefers. But he rents the upper floor of the building to Barrington Gunn, a grizzled war vet and private investigator. When Gunn goes missing, Jake sets out to find his friend … and finds himself caught up in the malicious machinations of a voodoo queen ….
First, let me say that I hate writing negative reviews. Usually, if I dislike a book to such a degree that I can’t give it a positive review, I don’t write one at all. I just delete the book, or donate it, and move on. When I do write a negative review, it’s because there is something about the story that needs to be seriously addressed by the writing and/or Pagan communities.
Such is the case with A Chick, A Dick, and a Witch Walk Into a Barn. First, the good point. I really like Jake. As a protagonist, he shows a lot of potential: he’s a war refugee from Eastern Europe who had to abandon everything and flee for his life. There are hints that he was an ethnic minority in his homeland (Romani, maybe?), and he was tortured before he managed to escape. That background affords him a unique perspective on life in pre-World War II United States, and he is blessedly free of the sexist and racist opinions so prevalent at the time.
Unfortunately, that is where my positive review ends, because Jake is trapped in a mediocre-to-terrible story. First, there’s the “voodoo” part. Yeah. Okay. I understand that Nelson-Hicks was going for a pulp noir vibe with this story, but there so many other, better ways to do so than demonizing an already deeply misunderstood religion; especially when doing so means turning the loa into literal monsters. Then there’s the “queen” part. The only female character in the story is a beautiful, seductive, sexualized woman of color. Yep. The mysterious and sensual black woman as dangerous Other, again. Then there’s the gore. Gory bits don’t really bother me — provided that I am expecting them. The gore in A Chick, A Dick, and a Witch came completely out of nowhere. It was just bam! right there, and in excruciating detail.
And don’t get me started on the typographical and grammatical errors.
So, a note to writers: do your homework. Don’t step on an ethnic or religious group that is already being stepped on. And edit your damn manuscript.
Are you looking for good paranormal mysteries that feature protagonists of color and/or deal respectfully with non-Abrahamic spiritual traditions? In that case, leave poor Jake alone and go read some of the Mamma Lucy stories by John Linseed Grant, The Girl With Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson, The Arcane Casebook series by Dan Willis, or The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark.