Even Though I Knew The End, by C. L. Polk, is a sapphic romance and a supernatural thriller, all with a Chicago noir style. Helen is a freelance private investigator with certain supernatural skills, nearing the end of her secret countdown of her time left on earth. Edith, her girlfriend, is a choir singer with her own supernatural secrets. Helen gets caught up in one final investigation, chasing a gristly, notorious murderer, known as the White City Vampire.
When the book opens, Helen is keeping a large secret from her beloved Edith. She sold her soul in a demonic bargain to save her brother’s life, getting ten years on earth before hellfire and all of that, but the ten-year timeline is coming to an end. Helen doesn’t seem to care much about the eternal torment part, just that she’s leaving Edith behind, and she knows none of their shared dreams will really happen.
The whole novel has a noir feel, with retro flair balancing the melancholy of Helen’s deadline and of the dangers of the queer community. Vivid descriptions of the rare seedy settings where they can meet and the workarounds Helen and Edith use to spend time together help develop the world and their relationship. The tone is already clear about what would happen if Edith and Helen, or any of their friends, were discovered, but dark scenes in an asylum where deviants are treated for their perversions show exactly what they are risking.
The supernatural world, full of powerful creatures and long-running battles, is just below the surface of our everyday world if you know where to look. And Helen does know, like how she knows where she and Edith can meet safely and meet other women. Everyday people see newspaper stories of a couple individuals who had have ten years of wild success, love and riches, only to meet with a freak accident in our world, and then Helen knows that the otherworldly payment for their success has just begun. There’s a wide variety of supernaturals, all with a noir style. Although this is a mystery, there’s still an exploration of faith and belief, both for Helen and Edith, and inviting the reader to consider their choices.
I enjoyed the themes of fate and sacrifice, especially the dark look at the sacrifices characters are willing to make to achieve their dreams, save their loves ones, and alter destiny in general. It also worked well with the choices Helen, Edith and everyone else queer at this time had to make to balance safety and love. But I have to say that even though I kinda knew the end, I was completely Team Edith on Helen’s final choice. Even though I knew who Helen was and what she wanted, I still wanted a different ending. (Without spoilers, I understood Edith more and agreed with what she wanted and accepted.)
Overall, Even Though I Knew The End is both a warm sapphic love story and a tense supernatural heist adventure. Warning for blood and some creepy scenes in an asylum, but I didn’t find it too gory. The focus is on the epic battle of good and evil, not on blood splatters, even though there are more blood splatters than I typically enjoy in fiction.