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August 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Crime-Fighting Zombies and Wizard PIs
If you’re a devoted reader of either mystery or fantasy fiction, you probably already know there are many crossovers between the two genres—far too many to assemble anything remotely resembling a comprehensive list. But here, if you’re curious, are some of the most popular and interesting mystery series that we can, quite literally, call fantastic.
Anonymous Rex series, by Eric Garcia
It’s revealed in these magnificent novels that dinosaurs didn’t really die out 65 million years ago—they’re still very much alive and living among us, wearing latex human suits. Vincent Rubio is the private-eye hero of the series, which began with Anonymous Rex (1999), continued with Casual Rex (2001), and concluded with Hot and Sweaty Rex (2004). The cases are traditional hard-boiled mysteries: Vincent solving his partner’s murder, finding a missing person, that sort of thing. But the real fun is in the details of the dinosaur culture, which is richly developed, very entertaining, and surprisingly believable. This is a series that ended much too soon.
Dan Shamble series, by Kevin J. Anderson
How about a mystery-fantasy in which the hero is the, um, monster? Dan Chambeaux, otherwise known as Dan Shamble, is a crime-fighting zombie; before his death, he was a P.I., and, post-death, he continues handling cases, mostly of an otherworldly nature. In his debut, Death Warmed Over (2012), Dan helps out a couple of witches who are suing a publisher while at the same time trying to solve his own murder. There are two other Dan Shamble novels, Unnatural Acts (2012) and Hair Raising (2013), plus a few e-books. They’re very clever: Dan may be a zombie, but he’s also a working private investigator who has his own unique set of personal issues (for example, dealing with the effects of his constantly-decaying flesh).
Dirk Gently series, by Douglas Adams
If you like out-and-out comedy, check out this trio of books by the late and massively missed (certainly by your humble typist) Adams. Their star is a fella called Svlad Cjelli, who goes by name of Dirk Gently. He’s both a holistic healer and a psychic who doesn’t believe in psychic powers, a guy who operates more on the basis of assumptions and guesswork than any actual, you know, facts. Adams published only two novels about the character, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987) and The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul (1988), though a posthumous collection of Gently stories, The Salmon of Doubt, came out in 2002. Wildly funny stuff, almost as funny as Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.
Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher
Butcher’s gritty novels about Chicago private investigator Harry Dresden have been growing steadily in popularity since the first one, Storm Front, was published in 2000. (Cold Days, the most recent, came out in 2012.) The series offers a nice blend of hard-boiled mystery and fantasy elements: in Butcher’s Chicago, magic is real, and Harry, a wizard, spends most of his time working cases with a supernatural element—for example, a homicide for which the strongest suspect is a werewolf. A TV series based on the books, called The Dresden Files, ran for one season on the Sci-Fi Channel back in 2007.
Joe Ledger series, by Jonathan Maberry
Patient Zero (2009) was the first novel about Ledger, a Baltimore cop recruited into a top-secret government agency, the Department of Military Sciences, whose mission is to ward off science-based attacks on the U.S. Over the course of the series, Joe has gone up against zombies, genetically enhanced soldiers, modern-day versions of the biblical plagues of Egypt, and other nasties. The latest novel, Code Zero (2014), is a direct sequel to Patient Zero, with Joe battling a new and improved version of the zombies he tackled in that book. These are first-rate action thrillers with seriously dangerous fantasy elements—but, cleverly, the author makes sure we understand that the fantasy is itself based in science, and not in the supernatural.
John Justin Mallory series, by Mike Resnick
Mallory, the private-eye hero of a few novels by prolific sf and mystery novelist Resnick, made his first appearance in Stalking the Unicorn (1987). He’s a New York private eye whose career and personal life are on the skids when an odd little man comes to him with an unusual case: he needs Mallory to find a stolen unicorn. So begins Mallory’s new career as an investigator of crimes of the weird. The book isn’t an outright comedy, but it comes awfully close, and Resnick has a lot of fun with the idea of a “hidden” New York, full of strange and wondrous creatures, just around the corner from the real one. Stalking the Dragon (2009) is the most recent book in the series, and there was a 2012 short story collection, Stalking the Zombie. (If you’re listening, Mr. Resnick, we’re about due for another full-length Mallory adventure.)
Nursery Crime novels, by Jasper Fforde
Speaking of comedy, let’s take a quick look at a pair of detective novels starring Jack Spratt, of the Reading, England, police department’s Nursery Crime Division. In The Big Over Easy (2005), Jack’s looking into the death of Humpty Dumpty, who, you know, took a tumble. In the sequel, The Fourth Bear (2006), Jack is suspended from duty—a case went seriously awry—but still finds time to take on a missing-persons case. (It seems a young woman, Goldilocks, has gone missing.) The books are excellent mixtures of hard-boiled detective fiction and impish fantasy, with the same sort of affable, goofy humor as Fforde’s better-known Thursday Next series.
The Repairman Jack series, by F. Paul Wilson
Repairman Jack has a long and rather complicated backstory—you’d need to read pretty much two whole series to get a real sense of it—but, in simple terms, he’s a fix-it guy, sort of an Equalizer (remember that TV series?) for the supernatural crowd. He helps the innocent and downtrodden, using his unique gifts to combat forces and bad guys that aren’t your normal, run-of-the-mill villains. Lately, Wilson’s been exploring Jack’s early years in New York City in an origin-story trilogy that revitalized the lethargic series; the second installment, Dark City, was published in 2013.
The Toy City novels, by Robert Rankin
If you like Jasper Fforde, you should probably also check out The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (2002) and its sequel, The Toyminator (2006). They follow the adventures of Eddie Bear, a private eye in Toy City, who looks into the disappearance of his partner, Bill Winkie (in the first book), and a mysterious series of deaths (in the second). Although they’re thematically similar to Fforde’s novels—both authors have fun with nursery rhymes—Rankin takes a more aggressive comic approach, hitting us with rapid-fire puns, sly references, and in-jokes. Lots of fun.
The Vampire Files, by P. N. Elrod
In this long-running series—the first book, Bloodlist, was published in 1990—the hero is Jack Fleming, a Chicago journalist in the 1930s who’s rescued from death by his girlfriend, who turns Jack into a vampire. Now Jack solves tough cases, often involving organized crime, while trying to get the hang of being undead. (He’s claustrophobic, unfortunately, which makes sleeping in the traditional small enclosed spaces tricky.) The gangster-era Chicago atmosphere gives the books a nice sense of realism, somehow making the idea of a vampire detective seem not nearly so out-of-left-field.
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