John Ford’s The Last Hot Time is a tremendous piece of contemporary fantasy. It combines the Chicago of Elliott Ness and Bugsy Malone with a future where Elves, or Ellyll as they call themselves, have returned to the world and the works of man put aside, more or less. The story centers around young Danny Holman, on his way away from the small town he can no longer stand to find something better in the big city. He's taking everything he owns with him; a TR3 bought at a police auction and his skills as a paramedic.
These skills and a chance meeting on the highway earn him the place of house healer for one Mr. Patrise, a very important man in what was once Chicago, and is now known as the Levee. He’s about to be very busy, because a war between Ellyll powers and his Patron is about to erupt, and the crossfire keeps straying towards him.
He’s in for a hot time in the old town, all right. Before he’s done, he’ll see enough booze, blood broads and bewitchings to make a man out of him…or whatever it is he’s destined to become.
Before man became master of the world, there were the Ellyll. They told us what to do as we huddled beneath trees alone and afraid and from them man learned the trick of following their rules, whether he understood them or not.
Then they went away, for a very long time, and when they returned, they found that man had turned this trick to his advantage, uncovering the rules behind the physical world and using them to transform the world and himself. Transform to such and extent that the Ellyll hardly believed the creatures were the same ones they had left behind.
But when the Ellyll returned the rules changed. Magic returned, at least to the cities, and the machines died where the magic was strong. Men fought against the change, and Miami turned into a pit of radioactive slag rather than surrender, but other cities, like Chicago, became places between two worlds, inhabited by both humans and elves and full of magic.
The characters in this story are as compelling a crew as any you could hope for. Patrise, the mysterious and worldly patrone, Cloudhunter – an Ellyll warrior with a Thompson Submachine gun and an eye that sees more than the present, Lucius – a cynical newspaperman who keeps a typewriter under the bar and his own secret unpublished. Danny, now known as "Doc Hallownight" because true names carry power, gets mixed up with his share of women too. Somehow his story is mixed up with Phasia, the singer who can enrapture an audience with her voice…but was cursed so that she can’t speak an unmangled utterance. And there's that pesky virginity of his to deal with, as well as all the emotional baggage that he was able to pack into the TR3. A whole company of fascinating and world-weary types, with all the camaraderie you’d find in a Spider Robinson novel provide the feeling of good company without quite as much frivolity.
Weighing in at a mere 205 pages, it won't hold your door open against a strong breeze, but The Last Hot Time is one of the most enjoyable contemporary fantasies I've read in a while.