THE A.V. Club: By Ted Mann

In the darkness, along the damp carpet in Desolation Row, Bill Willingham tells Jeffrey Archer that his first novel, The Reckoning, is coming out in November, followed by a series of 10 books about people just beginning their careers in New York City. Archer is surprised, of course, that Willingham’s is the only one of his nine novels he has finished before its official publication date.

The novel follows Nathaniel Pine, who works at the Nation, the nemesis to legendary novelist Arthur Conan Doyle. A slow-developing story, The Reckoning is darker and more intricately plotted than the earlier books about the titular figures, in large part because Pine’s lawyers are such masters of evasion, even deception, that everything he says about an upcoming trial or hiring John Peter Green would be shot through with suspicion were it not for one of the novel’s many cryptic clues: Indian styling on the city buses and vintage cars.

Somewhere in that tension lies Willingham’s most rewarding character, Pete Lazzaro, the youngest of the 99 characters in The Reckoning. Lazzaro is the epitome of the older-man-comes-from-the-place principle — he’s loyal to his mother, avoids having sex with women much less assign apprenticeships to them, and teases the most prolific female reporter ever (actually, he thinks the previous one was first). But it’s Lazzaro’s frustrations that impress our heroes and most of his frustrations to Archer’s legions of characters.