Anthology Review: Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran

Weird Detectives: Recent InvestigationsWeird Detectives: Recent Investigations by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where urban fantasy and detective noir come together lies a fertile field to explore the human [and non-human] condition. The detectives themselves are often the fantastical variant. This collection brings together tales of a zombie, 2 vampire, 3 werewolf and 7+ wizarding detectives, among others, providing an external view of the modern human life. Also included are a couple supernatural Sherlock Holmes tales and a handful of ghost tales with a couple stretching all the way back to the Elizabethan era. The crimes are mostly murders which by nature shatter the accepted human social ethics.

This diversity of tales despite a common sub-genre is reflected in my top 3 each meriting 5-stars and in my “honorable mention” 3 earning 4-stars. I’ve reviewed and rated each of the 23 tales included.

–Jim Butcher’s “Love Hurts” [5 stars] depicts an intimate look at his Chicago-based wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, as he tries to stop a series of curse-induced love-suicides.
–Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey” [5 stars] tells a heart-felt Sherlock Holmes from a vantage beyond both Watson and Holmes.
–Charlaine Harris’ “Death by Dahlia” [5 stars] circumstantially places an ancient vampire in the role of detective when a political vampire coronation of sorts is disrupted by a murder.
–Patricia Briggs’ “Star of David” [4 stars] tells a familial tale when a werewolf mercenary is called upon by his 40-years estranged daughter.
Faith Hunter’s “Signatures of the Dead” [4 stars] pairs an elemental witch and her coven-family with a shapeshifter to solve an Appalachian vampire problem.
Jonathan Maberry’s “Like Part of the Family” [4 stars] depicts the canine-like loyalties and ethics of a werewolf evening the playing field in defense of domestic and sexual abuse survivors.

Also included are:
Bear, Elizabeth–“Cryptic Coloration”–3 stars
Bick, Ilsa J.–“The Key”–3 stars
Bowes, Richard–“Mortal Bait”–3 stars
Denton, Bradley–The Adakian Eagle–3 stars
Elrod, P. N.–“Hecate’s Golden Eye”–3 stars
Green, Simon R.–“The Nightside, Needless to Say”–3 stars
Huff, Tanya–“See Me”–3 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Maltese Unicorn”–3 stars
Monette, Sarah–“Impostors”–3 stars
Parks, Richard–“Fox Tails”–3 stars
Vaughn, Carrie–“Defining Shadows” [Kitty Norville]–3 stars
Cameron, Dana–“Swing Shift”–2 stars
Carl, Lillian Stewart–“The Necromancer’s Apprentice”–2 stars
Clark, Simon–“Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell”–2 stars
Gustainis, Justin–“Deal Breaker”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“The Case of the Stalking Shadow”–2 stars
Meikle, William–“The Beast of Glamis”–2 stars

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

3 of 5 stars.

When the purest substance on earth, unicorn horn, is used to make a dildo, every demon for millennia wants to get their . . . hands . . . on it.

Two demon brothel madams battle over NYC turf. Each would like to add the aforementioned rumored item to their arsenal and jump into action when it hits Chinatown. The scrap up comes down to a dead Jimmy Wong, an ambitious double-crossing sorceress, and a lesbian store owner of rare books.

The tale comes across plenty noir, but more Lovecraft than detective. There’s much world-building for a short story, stretching this tale to the extremes with what’s left unexplained.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s:
     “The Bone’s Prayer”–3 stars
     “Bridle”–4 stars
     “The Cats of River Street (1925)”–5 stars
     “The Cripple and Starfish”–4 stars
     “Dancy vs. the Pterosaur”–3 stars
     “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”–4 stars
     “The Peddler’s Tale, or Isobel’s Revenge”–2 stars
     “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings”–5 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Swing Shift” by Dana Cameron

2 of 5 stars.

The subgenre of supernatural detective noir gets a 1940s gangland Boston addition with this tale [and series]. Former detective partners Harry and Jake went their separate ways when Harry joined the FBI’s war effort. Jake retreated into the New England countryside. But a case of war effort secrets being passed from a high security lab to the Nazis has Harry call Jake in for his insights.

Jake has somehow kept his werewolf identity from his former partner. He also brings in his family comprised curiously of both werewolves and vampires. Their looks and abilities doesn’t pull from standard mythos, nor does it explain how genetic werewolf and vampire can be sisters.

The stakes of the case, and the reveal are all lacking in this detective tale. The tale’s really Harry’s awakening into a new worldview which he accepts all too easily and without curiosity.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Hecate’s Golden Eye” by P. N. Elrod

3 of 5 stars.

Chicago has had its fair share of supernatural detectives–most notably, Butcher’s Harry Dresden the wizarding detective of the modern era. This fun tale takes detective noir and Chicago back to its 1930’s bootlegging, gangsterland roots. Detective Jack Fleming happens to be a vampire, his partner, Charles Escott, isn’t. Together they right wrongs–at least as far as their clients are concerned.

This case involves a stolen inheritance of a rare yellow diamond called Hecate’s Golden Eye. It may be cursed, if one believes that sort of thing. What ensues is a mad scramble of alliances and subterfuge all taking place within a few hours on a single evening as money, the jewels and counterfeits aplenty play the Old Shell Game between the various suspects, clients and detectives.

Jack’s vampiric traits play a role in solving the case. Especially helpful is his ability to hypnotize and turn incorporeal.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Deal Breaker” by Justin Gustainis

2 of 5 stars.

The mark of a good detective is agile thinking and an ability to elicit the proper response, whether action or words, from others. Not every case requires the flatfoot to hoof it–the investigator just needs to understand the situation differently from the client perplexed by it.

This tale sits between a vignette and a parable [much shorter and shallower than a short story] as the detective never leaves his office to solve/resolve the client’s dilemma. It’s the sort of thing that might happen between the pages of a longer story and then complement the bigger cases. Here, it’s left hanging on its own: a well-to-do client comes in hours before his ten-year deal with the devil comes due. He wants to avoid the hell-hounds despite his demon-contract.

The detective merely parses out the details of the contract and gathers intel on the supernatural deal-maker to sort things out. Throw in a bottle of bourbon and the noir scenario is complete. While this vignette logics out fine, the ending begs for more of the world of the detective than this gives. Sometimes one wants to see more of the detective than his sheltered office . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Nightside, Needless to Say” by Simon R. Green

3 of 5 stars.

Following the success of wizarding detectives, the latest urban fantasy cluster has been a shift toward zombie detectives, with or without the noir voice. The added bonus for the zombie detective is the impetus to investigate one’s own turning as an origin story. On television and on print is iZombie. A similar modern day take is found in My Life as a White Trash Zombie, also with a female assistant coroner. And in Braineater Jones, a 1930s noir-voiced world is rich with zombies.

This overly brief tale is set within the urban fantasy world of Nightside, a fictional London neighborhood that never leaves the bleak darkness of 3am. I previously read “The Spirit of the Thing” which is also a detective noir vignette set within this world by this author. At the time, I found the story a little too convenient and brief, lacking in the development and relying too heavily on readers perhaps knowing his urban fantasy world. The same holds true for this tale, especially in that it’s an entirely new cast of characters including the protagonist detective.

Larry Oblivion awakens to find himself walking dead and lacking a few days worth of memories. He rightly decides to solve his own murder and turning. Step one: contact his detective partner and ex-mistress and update her as to his current circumstances . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Key” by Ilsa J. Bick

3 of 5 stars.

Modern day detective noir meets ancient Jewish mysticism in this tale of murder and convenient coincidence.

A Washington DC detective, Jason Saunders, and his new partner scope out the scene in a local park where a dead infant was found by a woman walking a dog. It happens to be the same park where a year earlier Saunders’ then partner committed suicide. A potential anti-Semitic hate crime had sent his Jewish partner along a downward spiral that ended with a self-administered bullet.

Fighting through the memories, Saunders notes a Kabbalah pendant around the neck of the dog walker. And his partner find a piece of cloth inscribed with Hebrew letters tucked under the tongue of the infant …

It may not matter if something supernatural is going on, or even if you belief something supernatural could go on, if others do believe . . .

The story presents a clash of faiths and levels of skepticism knotted into an investigative mess.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]