Relentless Melt

Relentless Melt

by Jeremy P. Bushnell
Relentless Melt

Relentless Melt

by Jeremy P. Bushnell


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Notes From Your Bookseller

The early 1900s, when a young woman’s fancy turns to detective work. But how to do it when the only place to learn is the YMCA's Evening Institute for Younger Men? In disguise, of course. Take this journey into author Jeremy P. Bushnell’s mind-melting world where the golden age of detectives meets the supernatural.

"A supernatural mystery—part Stranger Things, part Enola Homes, but very much itself... This book is way, way over the top—and is sure to delight its intended audience." — firstCLUE

Stranger Things meets the Golden Age of Detective fiction in a rollicking supernatural detective thriller that introduces Artie Quick, a sales assistant at Filene’s in Boston, who moonlights as an amateur detective.

The year is 1909, and Artie Quick—an ambitious, unorthodox and inquisitive young Bostonian—wants to learn about crime. By day she holds down a job as a salesgirl in women’s accessories at Filene’s; by night she disguises herself as a man to pursue studies in Criminal Investigation at the YMCA's Evening Institute for Younger Men.  

Eager to put theory into practice, Artie sets out in search of something to investigate. She's joined by her pal Theodore, an upper-crust young bachelor whose interest in Boston's occult counterculture has drawn him into the study of magic. Together, their journey into mystery begins on Boston Common—where the tramps and the groundskeepers swap rumors about unearthly screams and other unsettling anomalies—but soon Artie and Theodore uncover a series of violent abductions that take them on an adventure from the highest corridors of power to the depths of an abandoned mass transit tunnel, its excavation suspiciously never completed.

Will Theodore ever manage to pull off a successful spell? Is Artie really wearing that men's suit just for disguise or is there something more to it?  And what chance do two mixed-up young people stand up against the greatest horror Boston has ever known, an ancient, deranged evil that feeds on society's most vulnerable?

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781685890322
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Publication date: 06/06/2023
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 129,924
Product dimensions: 5.52(w) x 8.28(h) x 1.02(d)

About the Author

Jeremy P. Bushnell is the author of two earlier novels with Melville House: The Weirdness and The Insides. He teaches writing at Northeastern University in Boston, and lives in Dedham, Massachusetts. He is also the cofounder of Nonmachinable, a distributor of optically interesting zines and artists' books.

His website:

Read an Excerpt

Artie Quick restlessly paces the second floor of the YMCA building, passing the door to the classroom and then turning back, approaching it again, trying to build up the will to enter. It is 7:57 p.m., according to the wooden clock. Class begins in three minutes. 

Three minutes to eight, Artie thinks, that’s perfect. Three minutes to eight is the perfect time to arrive on the first night of class if you want to make absolutely no impression. It’s safely on time by any measure—the class laggards will surely show up later than you—but it’s also not too early. It reduces down to a mere shaving the period during which you have to sit there, waiting for class to start, looking at people while they look at you. It’s the perfect time, Artie thinks, beginning to sweat, even though it’s a cool October evening outside.

Go in now, Artie thinks. If it gets any later you’ll lose your nerve. Any later and you’ll have to admit that you weren’t brave enough after all.

Go in now. But not quite yet. One last glance at the wooden clock that hangs on the wall between classrooms. Now it’s 7:58. One last moment to squint at the tiny pentagonal window behind which the pendulum swings, to examine the face reflected in the dark glass. The willful jut of the jaw; the tiny notch of a frown line between the eyebrows. It isn’t the face of a person who’s not brave.
Slowly, Artie smooths an errant cowlick back to the scalp, then turns, walks to the door, grasps the handle, and goes in, ready, seemingly ready, to begin the first session of a thirteen-week course of instruction on the topic of Criminal Investigation.

Luckily, there’s an open desk close to the door, and Artie takes a seat there. At the front of the room a big man, a bear in suit and spectacles, writes his name on the chalkboard. Professor Winchell. Some other students are already seated at their desks; Artie can count the backs of eleven heads. A moth flutters about the room, looping erratically in the room’s unsteady electric light. The clock in the hall groans and begins to strike eight. Artie is still hopeful that a latecomer will hurry in—there are still a few open desks—but no one does. So much for three minutes to eight being the perfect time if you didn’t want to be the laggard.

As the clock completes its chiming, Professor Winchell takes a watch out of his coat pocket and makes a tiny adjustment to it. Then, as the room falls back into silence, he looks over the assembled students and says, in an orotund voice: “Welcome to Criminal Investigation.”

Standing beside his desk, he takes roll from a list, calling each student’s name in turn. Each of the assembled students mumbles “here” or “present” in response. Everyone, Winchell excepted, seems a bit nervous, a bit uncertain that they’re really supposed to be in this classroom: this is a bit reassuring. Even so, when Winchell nears the bottom of the list and calls out “Master Quick?” Artie elects to respond with “here,” rather than with “present”: it’s shorter by a syllable.

Two more names and Winchell puts the list down, taking a moment to square it, so that its edges align precisely with the edges of his desk. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he says once the task is completed. “In advance of this session,” he continues, “you should have acquired the course text; I see many of you have it out already; that is good. Please open the text to page one.”

Artie already has the book out and open, as well as a small notebook. Winchell hefts his own copy of the book—his hand trembles, and he takes a moment to steady it before he begins to amble between the rows of seated students.

“Page one of our text,” Winchell says, “concerns the character traits every superior criminal investigator should possess. Vigor, health, courage, tact—covered here on page one. Important, indeed, although my own youthful vigor is perhaps not entirely what it once was.”

A polite chuckle from the students, though Artie doubts Winchell is much over forty.

“However. It is also crucial that the criminal investigator be knowledgeable. The criminal investigator, our text tells us—allow me to quote—has to solve problems relating to every conceivable branch of human knowledge; he ought to be acquainted with languages; he should know what the medical man can tell him and what he should ask the medical man; he must be as conversant with the dodges of the poacher as with the wiles of the stock jobber, as well acquainted with the method of fabricating a will as with the cause of a railway accident; he must know the tricks of card sharpers, why boilers explode, how a horse coper can turn an old screw into a young hunter. He should be able to understand slang, to read ciphers, to pick his way through account books, et cetera.

“Now,” Winchell says—he looks up from the book, “if you do not see yourself reflected in this description, do not despair. It is critical that we not despair. You are young men, this fact ensconced in both the name of the Institute that you attend and the fine Christian Association that has founded it. The youngest among you, our Master Kuykendall, yes, hello, is but fifteen years of age. How much knowledge he has amassed in his fifteen years I cannot be sure. I suspect it is likely to fall short of what Doctor Gross, the author of our text, cites here as necessity. But Master Kuykendall should not lose hope, for he has his youth, as do you all. Thus, you have time. A precious commodity, time. With the expenditure of it, knowledge may be bought. Of this, you may feel confident.”

Artie is listening. Winchell strolls back to the front of the room.

“However,” Winchell says upon coming to rest again. “The expenditure of time will mean nothing without a corresponding expenditure of your powers of effort. And this effort cannot be falsified. The willingness, no, beyond willingness, the desire, to put in the effort to learn is more important than knowledge, more important than youth, vigor, all the rest. The desire to learn, which, at its root, is nothing more than a desire to observe—that is the trait, above all, which is central to all superlative criminal investigators. I return here to Doctor Gross, who writes that an Investigating Officer must be always picking up something in touch with his work. Thus the zealous Investigating Officer will note on his walks the footprints found in the dust of the highway; he will observe the tracks of animals, of the wheels of carriages, the marks of pressure on the grass where someone has sat or lain down. He will examine little pieces of paper that have been thrown away, marks or injuries on trees, displaced stones, broken glass or pottery, doors and windows open or shut in an unusual manner. Everything will afford an opportunity for drawing conclusions and explaining what must previously have taken place.

“Nor,” Winchell continues, “ought the budding Investigating Officer to neglect any opportunity for learning to know men. For every man with whom we come in contact may be taken as an object of study, and whoever takes the trouble can always learn something from the biggest fool.”
Winchell claps his copy of the book shut and places it upon the desk, next to the roll list.

“With that,” says Winchell, “let us embark upon a short mutual endeavor that I believe will prove illuminating. Please close your eyes.”

The students stir perceptibly at this request, which seems, frankly, a bit strange.

“Do not be afraid, children,” Winchell says, not unkindly. “The world may be a dangerous place but I guarantee you that nothing will bite you in the darkness, at least not here, in the space of this classroom.”

OK, then: eyes shut.

“Tonight, for our first session of this class—close your eyes, please, Master, Hardesty is it? Thank you—tonight, for our first session of this class, we gathered here, in this room. Ten minutes elapsed between the arrival of the first of you, Master Owens, and the last of you, Master Quick.”
Artie flinches at being singled out, but manages to resist cracking an eye open to sneak a look at Winchell’s expression.

“It took me perhaps three minutes to proceed through the roll call and to briefly summarize the first page or two of our text. In total, then, thirteen minutes elapsed between the arrival of Master Owens and the point, moments ago, at which I asked you to close your eyes. Each of you had some portion of that thirteen-minute interval to make some preliminary observations. Those of you who are cut from the cloth of the criminal investigator should have used that time to make a quick study of the men here in this class. And—as the biggest fool in the room, perhaps, certainly the oldest—I flatter myself by imagining that I might have sufficed to form the central focus of that study. And so I ask you: From your positions, there, in the darkness where you patiently sit, without recourse to refreshment of your initial perceptions: What did you observe about me? What information did you obtain? Owens, you had the advantage, the full thirteen minutes—why don’t you begin? Keep your eyes closed, please.”

“Ah,” says Owens, an evident note of nervousness in his voice. “You’re, um, male; you’re white, approximately, um, fifty years of age—”

“Fifty! Good gravy, man. Anyone else?”

Someone else: “Approximately forty-five, sir.”

“Still too high—but a reasonable approximation. I take a portion of the blame: I may be bearing my years poorly.”

Owens: “Apologies, sir.”

“I take no offense, Owens, and I do appreciate your participation; you’ve gotten us off to a good start. Anyone else? Hands up, hands up if you have details to share. Yes, McAllister?”

“You’re wearing a suit.”

“Yes, as is the custom. What can you tell me about the suit?”

“It’s, um, black, sir.”

“Correct, although that doesn’t get us much further. What else about my suit. Anyone. Is it an expensive one? Cheap?”

It’s somewhere in the middle, Artie thinks. It didn’t show evident signs of wear or mending, like a cheaper suit, pressed into regular duty, might have. Yet at the same time, Winchell is a big man, not quite fat, but with a broad expanse of stomach, easily around 275 pounds. Despite that, his suit jacket is baggy, implying that he bought a factory-made garment off a downtown rack, whatever was large enough to fit into comfortably, rather than having a suit made and customized by a tailor. Artie waits for someone to supply these observations, but no one does.

“You wear glasses,” someone says instead.

“Very good.”

Someone else: “You have a beard.”

“True. Recently trimmed? Beard in order? Or wild, like an anarchist’s beard?”

“Neatly trimmed, sir, not anarchic.”

“I have been known to throw my weight in support of the single tax,” Winchell says, “but I suspect my anarchic tendencies are otherwise held in check, and you are correct, Wilkins, that whatever they may be, they do not manifest in my beard, which was, indeed, trimmed back into order just this morning. Well noted.”

Artie suspects that the use of the phrase throwing weight is a way to coax someone in offering an observation about Winchell’s size and shape, but, if it’s bait, no one seems interested in taking it.

A silence ensues. Artie frowns.

His wedding band, Artie thinks. He’s wearing a wedding band. Surely someone will mention that.

“What else?” Winchell says. “Is there anything else?”

What else. Besides the wedding band, which no one is remarking on. Anything else. One thing: the tremor Artie had noticed in the man’s hand. At nearly one thousand pages, Criminal Investigation is a heavy book, but not so heavy an apparently hale middle-aged man like Winchell could not comfortably lift it, hold it before him. The shakiness could have been just a moment’s unsteadiness, but it could have been a sign of something more: a symptom of ill health, poorly masked—an indicator of . . . neuralgic pains? Or something else? The need for a drink? No one remarks on that, either, and the moment passes.

“Very well,” Winchell says. “I see we have some ground yet to cover. You may open your eyes.”

Artie does.

“Please turn in your text to page twenty-nine,” Winchell continues, “where we will begin to read from Section Six, ‘Knowledge of Men.’”

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