Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Sapphic MC with fibromyalgia, major brown sapphic character, major bisexual character, major gay character, minor nonbinary characters, minor disability
PoV: Third-person, past-tense
Published on: 26th September 2023
Be gay, solve crime, take naps—A witty and quirky fantasy murder mystery if a folkloric world of witches, faeires, vampires, trolls and ghosts, for fans of Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey and T. J. Klune's Under the Whispering Door.
A magical serial killer is stalking the Occult town of Wrackton. Hypnotic whistling causes victims to chew their own tongues off, leading to the killer being dubbed the Whistler (original, right?). But outside the lack of taste buds and the strange magical carvings on the victims’ torsos, the murderer leaves no evidence. No obvious clues. No reason – or so it seems.
Enter the Undetectables, a detective agency run by three witches and a ghost in a cat costume (don’t ask). They are hired to investigate the murders, but with their only case so far left unsolved, will they be up to the task? Mallory, the forensic science expert, is struggling with pain and fatigue from her recently diagnosed fibromyalgia. Cornelia, the team member most likely to go rogue and punch a police officer, is suddenly stirring all sorts of feelings in Mallory. Diana, the social butterfly of the group, is hitting up all of her ex-girlfriends for information. And not forgetting ghostly Theodore – deceased, dramatic, and also the agency’s first dead body and unsolved murder case.
With bodies stacking up and the case leading them to mysteries at the very heart of magical society, can the Undetectables find the Whistler before they become the killer’s next victims?
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~glowy magic beetles
~fibro rep so good it hurts
~let’s invent magical forensics!!!
~so much snark
~friends to the end (and beyond)
I knew I was going to enjoy The Undetectables as soon as I saw the tagline Be Gay. Solve Crimes. Take naps., but I am delighted to be able to tell you that I did not just enjoy it, I freaking loved it.
THIS WAS SO MUCH FUN.
So let me get this straight. Or, should I say, gay.
It also made me want to cry a lot, because I’ve never read anything with a main character who has fibromyalgia before, and I was not expecting the representation to hit me so hard. Smyth has either done their homework incredibly well or has fibro themselves – obviously I hope for the former! – because Mallory’s struggles reflect my own painfully (hah) well. If you want a glimpse of what having fibro is like, well, The Undetectables has you covered: I can personally attest to the accuracy of the rep here.
Exercise was often touted as a cure, but Mallory couldn’t fathom how that was meant to work when she could barely stand up as it was.
(And if you claim it’s annoying or repetitive how often her pain or brain-fog comes up, I will straight-up BITE you. IT DOES SUCK HOW IT AFFECTS EVERY LITTLE THING, DOESN’T IT? NOW IMAGINE LIVING WITH IT.
The Undetectables walks a very fine line with aplomb: people are dying horribly, which is serious and tragic and terrifying, but also, three witchy besties and their ghost buddy are being hilarious, clever, and single-handedly (…quadruple-handedly?) inventing the field of magical forensics with light-up beetles and Magic Magical Machines. I can’t imagine it’s easy to write a book that is simultaneously light-hearted and serious, that has that marvellous X factor that makes it easy to read but also leaves room for grief and fear – but Smyth pulls it off like an especially elegant spell, and yes, you can consider me enchanted.
The entire book feels like a magic trick, honestly, in how it manages to look like one thing while being another, making you watch one hand while the other brings a whole fluffle of jackalopes bounding out of the magician’s hat. Yes, it’s a murder mystery – but it’s also an exploration of how chronic illness affects friendships with those who aren’t ill, about tangled, thorny relationships and a few different takes on self-worth. It’s such a light, breezy read that you could almost miss how deep it is, how raw it gets, how honest – not just about fibromyalgia, but with regards grief, culture clashes, privilege, classism, how heavy the weight is when you’re trying to prevent more people from getting killed.
It has unexpected depths, is what I’m saying here.
But it is, fundamentally, utterly delightful.
tradition is just peer pressure from dead people,’
This is in large part due to the marvellous cast, their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and the dynamics between them all. Cornelia is massively into bugs; Diana makes murder dioramas; Theodore is Dramatic and also stuck with cat ears, since he died wearing them; and Mallory is Tired But Dammit, she’s going to invent magical forensics if it kills her. Anyone who’s ever been seriously ill or otherwise incapacitated – to say nothing of those of us with chronic illnesses or disabilities – will empathise with Mallory’s fragile uncertainty over whether she is Too Much for her friends, but that friendship is really what pulls the entire book together, is absolutely the heart of the story. These four made me laugh, made my heart ache, made me punch the air when they overcame a Thing – even when, maybe especially when, that Thing was their own feelings or hangups! THANK YOU YES, WE STAN HEALTHY LOVING FRIENDSHIPS HERE!
There was no single level nor astral plane where Mallory felt confident Cornelia could be described as a ‘mere mortal’.
Which is not to say that everything is rosy; Mallory in particular, as the main character, is realistically flawed – and to be honest, that made me really happy. Mallory has fibromyalgia; it does not make her a saint. She’s allowed to be ill/disabled and imperfect, and it made her so much more real to me – as well as making her mean so much more to me, as fibro warrior representation.
So: four friends, trying to solve a murder. And then there’s another murder, making it clear they have a serial killer on their hands. The Undetectables is pretty much equally about the killings as it is Getting The Gang Back Together, since Cornelia and Diana drifted away from Mallory after her diagnosis – understandable, but sad. I will admit, I didn’t care for the murder mystery part – but then, I generally don’t; the murder mystery part is incidental to why I wanted to read this book. THAT BEING SAID: when all the pieces come together at the end? It’s actually kind of amazing. I was dubious about the motivations for the murders, and a few other things, but when I finally got all of the explanation, it was PERFECT. And I really appreciated how in The Undetectables, so much room is given for grief, for loss. That’s something I haven’t encountered before in SFF murder-mysteries; it made the whole murder-mystery aspect less entertaining and more real, and while I absolutely get the appeal of ‘cosy’ murder-mysteries, I’m glad that the awfulness of the situation was recognised here.
And the Getting The Gang Back Together part of the story? *chef’s kiss* YES. So much yes! It’s not the easiest thing in the world, it is messy and complicated and there is thoughtlessness and resentment and guilt all tangled up together with the endless amount of love they all have for each other. That’s what makes it brilliant! All four of the main characters feel so real, so lifelike, that they could walk out of the page and into our world at any moment – and honestly, if they did, I’d like to think we’d be friends.
Diana wore entirely inappropriate shoes for the situation, but when asked, she said ‘I can use the heels to stab someone in the neck. I don’t see what the problem is.’
Mallory could not fault her logic.
Is the worldbuilding a little weak? By my standards (which, let’s remember, are very high – I like my worldbuildingly obsessively detailed) yes. Things are kept very simple, but sometimes that very simplicity is confusing; we have five magical races/species, only three of which really come up in this book (so why have five at all?), and each one is associated with a different material – carbon, iron, etc. These associations aren’t explained, and given that they’re actually plot-relevant, that really bugged me. The religion is also pretty hazy – we have a trio of ‘lesser’ goddesses or demi-goddesses whose origin no one is really clear on, but there seems to be another level of greater goddesses above them? Again, this is majorly plot-relevant, so I really would have wanted a clearer picture of what exactly Occultists believe and how they worship.
I was also left with no real idea of how Apparents (non-magical humans, and may I just say I love this term MUCH more than mundane or muggle or whatever mildly-to-strongly-patronising term most stories use) and Occultists feel about each other, given that the magical community seems to exist openly and not be in hiding. Do Apparent nightclubs hire troll bouncers too? Do witches sell their magical services to Apparents?? Are faeries sitting on the boards of otherwise-Apparent environmental charities??? Unknown.
HOWEVER: although we don’t get a lot of info on the different magical peoples, it’s made very clear that they all have their own cultures and traditions, and not just in big general ways, but in smaller day-to-day type things, which I really loved. It massively helps to make them feel distinct from each other. And the confusion around the goddesses is acknowledged in-text and is strongly implied to be a Thing Which Will Be Plot Relevant Later.
(I so hope we get a sequel. Preferably LOTS of sequels. I WANT AN UNDETECTABLES SERIES, IS THAT SO WRONG???)
And although, being me, I wanted more worldbuilding – we didn’t actually need much more than we got. It definitely wasn’t enough to affect how much I enjoyed this book – was which was, in case you didn’t pick up on it earlier, A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT.
An urban fantasy that feels light but has a lot of heart, with a fantabulous cast and oddly adorable glowing beetles, The Undetectables is my new favourite friendship-fantasy. I strongly advise you not to miss out on it!