My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Read as part of the 1941 Retro-Hugo Voters’ Packet.
The good: This story is a definite precursor to today’s neo- urban fantasy genre. It’s fascinating to see this early iteration of a tale featuring modern society mixed in with wizards-for-hire, witches, witch-finders, and an FBI agent disguised as a demon.
The bad: The story just isn’t as clever and amusing as it thinks it is. The fantasy elements are really just ‘swaps’ for real-world equivalents; the supernatural adds nothing at all to the plot.
Our main character is a small businessman who runs a construction company. Like most businesses in this town, he hires wizards to do bits of magic here and there to help get the job done. As the story opens, he’s approached by a guy coming in with a protection racket: “sign up and agree to hire only the wizards that belong to my Association, and we guarantee that quality services will be rendered. (Don’t agree, and we’ll burn down your warehouse.)” Meanwhile, the wizards are being pressured to join this Association: “pay us your membership dues, or you won’t be getting work in this town.” The businessman gets a lawyer, goes to court, and also works on his own to foil this nefarious plan.
I could actually see this story being used in a class to explain racketeering, ‘protection’ scams, monopolies, and why anti-trust regulations are important. It lays it all out clearly and makes the concepts easy to understand, with a bit of fun fictional overlay to help the dry economic facts slide down smooth. As a teaching tool – I’d say it’s potentially pretty good. However, as a story, it’s a bit dry, didactic and tedious at times.