Spade, a Microsoft millionaire who didn’t lose his millions, is an sf fan, a SMoF (Secret Master of Fandom), who helps fan-run conventions function smoothly. Usually that means helping out in his main area of expertise—how to run a non-profit, fan-run convention operation without getting into either financial or tax difficulties. This time he’s agreed to step in as program director of SierraCon, held at a fairly isolated hotel in the Sierra Nevada mountains, on the California/Nevada border. Soon he finds himself and the whole convention snowed in, while one by one, prominent attendees are having terrible “accidents.” Fortunately, Paladin, and their joint ward, Casper, are also there. They’ve dealt with dangerous crises at cons before. But can they solve this one before one of them falls victim?
Ten Little Fen: A Spade/Paladin Conundrum, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
WMG Publishing, November 2021
By Lis Carey: Spade, SMoF (Secret Master of Fandom), forensic accountant, and amateur detective for sf conventions when necessary, is program director of SierraCon, an sf convention held at a relatively isolated hotel in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, just barely on the California side of the California/Nevada state line. Oh, and this convention is in November. He’s filling in for the original program director, who is recovering from chemotherapy for cancer, and not able to do the job. He’s not fond of either mountains, or snow, but once the convention starts, no one really has to go out, and the locals say the snowstorms are overblown and don’t generally create real problems. Getting ready of the official start of the convention, Spade ignores the weather.
That’s a mistake. As the official start of the convention approaches, a major blizzard closes in, flights are canceled, both attendees and guests cancel, and Spade has to remind the hotel’s general manager of the unusual terms of their contract regarding cancellations. At least their Writer Guest of Honor arrived early, and the “Usual Set,” a group of New York-based writers and editors who travel a lot, show up unexpectedly, just before that becomes impossible, and can be used to fill program holes created by the cancellations. Except, of course, Spade’s troubles haven’t even started. That happens during dinner that night, when one well-known fan nearly chokes to death, is saved by fandom’s other traveling detective, Paladin, performing the Heimlich maneuver, and subsequently proves to have been poisoned.
The tiny, plastic number 1 in his food, which caused him to choke, may actually have saved his life, but he’s still really sick from the poison. Spade, Paladin, and their young ward, Casper, do not yet suspect that the tiny, plastic number 1 is the first real sign of what they’re up against. The basic outline of what they’re up against can be found in an Agatha Christie book whose third and so far final title, after the first two titles offended even the less sensitive racial sensitivities of an earlier age, is …And Then There Were None.
Even with the cancellations, they’ve got a few hundred people on site.
It’s soon very clear that the would-be killer isn’t stupid, and is intimately familiar with fandom. This isn’t an outsider. Spade, Paladin, Casper because they can’t leave her unattended while they investigate, the writer Guest of Honor, Horatio Dunnett (who may strike some as remarkably similar to George RR Martin), and a few other convention members and the occasional member of the hotel staff, are rushing to find a wannabe killer before anyone is actually killed. And they can’t call in the police, because the storm has snowed in the hotel and anything that might be considered nearby. The police can’t get them. They’re lucky they have doctors and nurses attending the convention, or they’d have no knowledgeable care for the injured as the murder attempts mount.
Finding the perpetrator is going to take Spade’s deep knowledge of fandom and ability to dig out long-buried information as long as it’s buried in digital form, and Paladin’s quick thinking and fast reflexes.
It’s a clever mystery, a lot of fun, and satisfies at least a bit of that urge to attend a convention that’s been frustrated since early 2020.
I received this book as a gift.