Thursday, January 1, 2009

Review – “Unusual Suspects” Edited by Dana Stabenow

FROM THE BOOK COVER:
Unusual Suspects invokes a dozen imaginative tales featuring otherworldly investigators trailing uncanny criminals across fantastical realms governed by the laws of magic.
From video game characters seeking civil rights and a. cave dragon loan shark pondering an investment, to Santa Claus vacationing in New Zealand and a murderous enemy seeking revenge on Sam Spade—plus visits to the Nightside and Sookie Stackhouse's hometown—these stories and more will take readers around the world on a magical mystery tour...
Unusual Suspects is a delightful collection of stories, some traditional fantasy, some urban fantasy and even a science fiction tale, all with a central mystery needing to be solved. Needless to say the central characters are not your traditional detectives. Having read many mysteries over the years, I always try to decipher who the villain is before the author reveals him/her/it. And darn it if I wasn’t 0 for 12 in this collection. Not much of a detective I guess. Many of the authors are new to me and many are familiar from their urban fantasy/fantasy appearances. Here is a quick take on the stories presented.
  1. Lucky by Charlaine Harris
    A Sookie Stackhouse story where Sookie and Amelia investigate a mysterious break-in at Sookie’s insurance agents office. This one is all about luck. For those keeping track, it occurs about a month after the events of Definitely Dead (Book 6). Charming as always but not a standout.
  2. Bogieman by Carole Nelson Douglas
    This is a Delilah Street PI story. Delilah is called in to solve the apparent murder of one of the CinSims – a Humphrey Bogart sim. An entertaining slice of Douglas’ post-millennium Las Vegas which reveals more about the true nature of the CinSims. Liked this one a lot.
  3. Looks Are Deceiving by Michael A. Stackpole
    Set in a traditional fantasy world, a dwarf mage seeks to find the murderer of the Duke, who isn’t quite dead yet, just cursed, before he dies. Some nice twists and turns with well-defined world building. May be part of a series but I haven’t read any other works by Stackpole. Now maybe I will.
  4. The House of Seven Spirits by Sharon Shinn
    This is a lovely contemporary ghost story from the author of the Twelve Houses fantasy series (a personal favourite) and others. An about to be divorced writer rents a haunted house with seven ghosts and seeks to find the truth about one of the ghosts hailed as a murderer. Finding the truth will set them all free. Poignant and sweet. One of the best in the collection.
  5. Glamour by Mike Doogan
    The funniest fantasy story of the twelve. A mysterious stranger arrives in the village to solve the mystery of a peasant’s daughter’s disappearance (there’s a mouthful). Some sly asides about how the village women ‘pay” for the magic they borrow to better their circumstances. Loved the thick-headed peasant.
  6. Spellbound by Donna Andrews
    The disliked heir apparent to become the magical colleges next Chancellor is murdered and a professor and his apprentice investigate. Some funny moments, interesting magical ideas and engaging cast of characters including a witch infatuated with the professor and determined to gain his favour. Another favourite.
  7. The Duh Vice by Michael Armstrong
    The only science fiction story in the collection with a fascinating look at a possible alternate future for America. Resources are carefully allocated and monitored. The main character investigates a potential resource abuser and discovers way more then he wanted to. A little X-files style story with a great title.
  8. Weight of the World by John Straley
    A Santa Claus story. An elf is killed and Santa investigates. No humour here. This one didn’t work for me. At all.
  9. Illumination by Laura Anne Gilman
    A story set in Gilman’s Retrievers universe but not featuring Wren. One of the Talented investigates the possible murder of her father, meeting a cave dragon, learning some truths and discovering her destiny. Nice tale and I suspect a character that may appear in future Retrievers novels. Quite liked this one.
  10. The House by Laurie R. King
    My favourite story in the collection. The traditional outsider group of young teens researches the ‘weird’ old house outside of town as part of a class project. The house has a reputation for disappearances and odd events. Then one of the group disappears. Despite my earlier contention that I didn’t figure out any of the mysteries in advance, I did see the ending for this one coming, but that only enhanced the strong emotional hook that closes the story.
  11. Appetite for Murder by Simon R. Green
    A Nightside tale of London’s darker side presented as a police procedural. Told with Green’s usual wry and twisted humour and inventive characters. An enjoyable confection.
  12. A Woman's Work by Dana Stabenow
    The collection finishes strongly with this fantasy tale of a female team of Seer and Sword sent by the King to investigate the death of the heir to the local province - a firmly entrenched male dominated culture. Gender obstacles abound with a surprising outcome.
An About the Authors appendix provides a nice overview of each author and their writing for those that would like to try out some longer works. The editor Dana Stabenow previously assembled a similar anthology called Powers of Detection: Stories of Mystery and Fantasy (2006) with many of the same authors, so if you like this you may find it of interest also. Unusual Suspects is a en engaging alternative for those looking for their mystery story fix.

6 comments:

  1. Unusual Suspects sounds good. I read the other anth and that was good! Gonna add this to my list!

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  2. Oh, I need to get this one. Mysteries that remain mysterious are the best. I still ahve to encounter these. I usually guess right from the start based on intution. Would like to give it a try.

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  3. hey spoiledforchoice, yeah kind of hard to resist with this lineup of writers

    Daydream let me know how many you figure out in advance. Sure kept me guessing.

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  4. When I get it, I will definitely tell you.

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  5. Thanks for the review! Bonnie Torres, the lead in "Illumination" does INDEED appear in several of the Wren books, and has her own series starting in 2010 with HARD MAGIC.

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  6. Laura Ann thanks so much for dropping by. I have been a fan of the Retrievers series since day one. I'd love to feature a promo or interview about the new series here when it's ready. Let me know.

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