Last Updated, Aug 2010
Henghis Hapthorn is the Archonate's finest discriminator, a master of deductive reasoning. Unfortunately, in this penultimate age, magic is again beginning to intrude into the universe, disrupting the rationale causation that is the basis of Henghis' investigations. Hapthorn struggles against the changing nature of reality, and the realization that his particular talents are becoming increasingly obsolete in the new age of sympathetic magic. Forced to defend the value of empiricism against various practitioners of magical intuition, his own logical deductions are often mistaken for magic, to his considerable annoyance. Imagine a sardonic Sherlock Holmes set in Jack Vance's Dying Earth, and you pretty much get the idea.
The first novel, Majestrum concerns unraveling a conspiracy against one of Earth's leading families; the second, The Spiral Labyrinth, follows Haphtorn into a parallel world completely dominated by magic. The mysteries are original, compelling, and satisfyingly twisty, but plot is entirely secondary to the droll dialog and wry worldbuilding.
One particularly original aspect of the Henghis Hapthorn chronicles is how the author solves the eternal problem of finding someone to whom the super sleuth can explain everything (i.e., the 'Watson' character): thanks to events recounted in The Gist Hunter and Other Stories, Hapthorn has become a split personality, allowing our protagonist to argue his various clues and cases with, um, himself. It is a clever conceit used to good comic effect, but Hughes also seems to be raising, in a pretty direct and literal manner, the larger question of whether people are ever really honest with themselves.
Hughes is a master of the ironic monolog, and much of Hapthorn's first person narration reveals him skirting over certain moral ambiguities or presenting himself in a better light than might altogether be justified by the facts. (Indeed, when they get around to making the film version of the Hapthorn chronicles, I envisage Kelesy Grammer cast in the title role, rather than, say, Jeremy Irons.) Conceited, self-satisfied, preening gasbag though he might be, Henghis Hapthorn is nevertheless oddly loveable and often rises to the occasion, demonstrating considerable genius and even heroism. And just underneath the irony lies a whole other layer of philosophical debate that underpins much of Matthew Hughes writing. In other words, Matthew Hughes is seriously funny.
But do not just take my word for it: sample chapters of all Hughes major works are available on his website at www.archonate.com. (But if you are moved to obtain the complete Matthew Hughes cannon —which I highly recommend — note that Gullible's Travels is in fact an omnibus edition of Fools Errant and Fool Me Twice.)
Reprinted from Neo-Opsis Magazine #14.