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.
There’s an ethical conundrum that asks: If you could travel through time and go back to when Hitler was an innocent baby, would you/could you kill him? This novella seems to revolve around this very question. And then lets the question linger.
Two elemental magic users representing the most powerful coalition of elementals travel back in time about 60 years to collect a baby that will grow up to be an awful, awful person. A Voldemort, perhaps. Never is a single atrocity, or crime cited and linked to the baby keeping that important aspect of the story cloaked, or just underdeveloped.
Interestingly, some characters appear in both time lines. Better yet, their positions in the government and in their relationship to the baby or to the kidnapping can oppose their other self. This is a clever contradiction worth exploring but left curiously quiet.
Rather, the book focuses on the mother [Sarah] of the kidnapped child. She’s a flawed elemental with anger issues stemming from being the mother scorned. Her husband is high up in the organization that likely took her child which puts her at odds within her own household. I call her flawed due to her lack of a moral compass. By the start of the book, she has started an uprising gathering over one thousand followers in opposition to the elemental government. She knowingly sets them all up for slaughter for a single siege to perhaps gather a single clue or tool in the drive to reclaim her stolen baby. What type of person would kill 1000 supporters just to open a door that they know their baby is not behind? She’s been wronged, but she’s also an awful person. And the story does not do enough to support this position.
The tale is also full of contradictions other than the purposeful time-bending ones. In the beginning of the tale, Sarah’s husband calls her to talk her out of the action she’s about to do. He knows what she’s doing and cites details. The government knows too, he says, and is expecting her. Much later in the book, he claims to her that he did not know that it was her that did what she did. [Except that he was also on the phone with her while she was doing it and well aware at that point.]
Like a blend between Minority Report and Inception this tale has police detectives enter highly detailed simulated scenes from the past to unravel crimes. These scenes are called snapshots, and only the investigators know that they are real as the simulations of everyone else only thinks they’re real unless proven otherwise.
Twists happen, as the investigators decide to step outside of the crimes they’re sent to investigate, in favor of some they aren’t . . .
While comparisons can be made to other tales, what’s really interesting in this tale is what it doesn’t explain. The actions are taking place essentially currently, except the world is not the Earth we know it to be. The United States is not what it was in this divergent timeline in which city-states populate North America. Also merely dangled off-page is the process by which “snapshots” are created. Intriguingly, some sort of biological element or cryptozoological creature is involved. This world begs for another tale to be set here.
Detective thriller meets World War II historic fiction in this novella set in the Aleutians when a private finds first a ritualistically slaughtered bald eagle on a wind-swept volcano on Adak. He returns to the scene of the crime to find a murdered Navy grunt.
What unspools is a tale of power, corruption, intimidation and canny detective work on the part of the Army base’s lead news reporter. Profound rifts divide the island’s inhabitants: native and military, enlisted and officer, army and navy. Distrust run deep. Echoes of A Few Good Men reverberate through the story.
A supernatural element comes into play when the private and the detective go on an Aleutian vision quest for answers. It’s an unnecessary plot device akin to finding a magic mirror to reveal all of the elements . . .
This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
Superheroes have been enjoying a century of popularity, building on their predecessors the folk heroes, heroes of tall tales, and mythic heroes. The most successful of heroes are the ones that despite their uber-human status, grapple with their humanity and oh-so-human weaknesses. They also exemplify the potential contradiction between pubic and private personae.
This enjoyable anthology brings together 16 tales of larger-than-life heroes dealing with common themes: family, relationships, and aging. My favorite tale was Matthew Johnson’s “Heroic Measures” meriting 5 stars. This heart-stirring/heart-breaking tale shows familiar, unnamed characters–with a very strong resemblance to Superman, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthur–grappling with the painful sorrow of old age. The very nature of heroism and bravery earns a new definition in this tale.
My honorable mentions, each with 4 stars, are: —“Super. Family.” by Ian Donald Keeling. Sparring with one’s supervillain nemesis may make the papers, but raising teens is the real struggle . . . —Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi. The road to recovery is difficult and unappeciated. But it’s also necessary for this reformed supervillain just trying to do right by his loved ones. —Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar. Culture and politics clash when multinational superheroes try to do right by “the people.”
This superhero/supervillain urban fantasy cleverly depicts the complicated relationship between South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and the United States. The countries, cultures, and politics are personified by the superheroes representing them helping to illustrate the complexities of the divided peninsula.
Wonjjang is a South Korean superhero/mutant working on a multinational team in the superhero division of a company. He leads the team that includes American, Japanese and Chinese members. Most of their attentions are used for thwarting the destructive tendencies of North Korean mutants led by a mad dwarf.
Two major sub-themes run through the tale. Firstly, mis-translations and awkward communication run rampant between both allies and enemies alike. One could include in this sub-theme the 2 mutants with communication-based abilities: the telepath and the mind-reader. The other sub-theme is attraction and romance. Wonjjang, who lives with his mother still, has a crush on the Japanese superhero who in turn is crushing on the American–that’s one way to summarize complicated politics. The hero’s mother would prefer him to settle down with a nice Korean girl, even if she’s from the North . . .
The blend of allegory and superhero works well here. The tale is recommended.
This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
Redemption and rehabilitation aren’t uncommon themes in literature. Here, a man struggles to stay true to his word, a word he’s broken before to those he loves.
Marshall was born with hereditary superpowers. But his single mother has never revealed the identity of his absentee father. So, Marshall grows up with a mental list of potential candidates. But growing up is hard, and Marshall finds himself surrounded by bad influences and users. He becomes a supervillain named Downfall in a gang of supervillains.
For the sake of his wife, Allison, he quits the gang and moniker and promises to lead an upstanding life. A bad decision, and relapse, finds Marshall busted in a bank robbery with his old gang and tossed in prison for 5 years. It’s 2 years before his wife even visits. But he vows to steer straight and is released on good behavior after a few more years.
Life on parole isn’t easy. Especially when one particularly beloved superhero, The Imperial, has made it his personal mission to reveal Marshall’s true identity wherever Marshall and Allison try to hang their hat. They can’t put down roots, or relax–they cannot start a family in circumstances like this. So, when The Imperial turns up murdered, it’s awfully ironic the feds want Marshall’s help to find the perpetrator. Or, is it?
This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.