Sunday, March 13, 2011
The Spirit of the Thing
This week I have been reading an anthology of occult crime tales which Justin Gustainis, the editor, was kind enough to send me.
I am not usually a big fan of occult mysteries, although I only object strongly when a supernatural element is thrown in gratuitously (what I call the "ooh! spooky!" gambit). Bad, but not quite as bad, is the story where you only find out about the supernatural element at the end (and he was a GHOST!). Full disclosure: I wrote a story of that ilk once, but it was in another century, and beside, the magazine is dead.
In any case, no danger of that type of story in this book which promises in advance that each story will feature werewolves, demons, fairies or the like. These tales are all new but each also is part of a series of novels and/or stories by the authors.
I tend to like the tales best that play with the cliches and expectations of the mystery genre. For example, my favorite story is Simon R. Green's "The Spirit of the Thing," in which private eye John Taylor is drinking in a seedy bar when he meets a beautiful woman who wants to hire him. How many times have we read that scene? But here is how it plays in Green's world:
"You have to helo me. I've been murdered. I need you to find out who killed me.
Not every private eye gets hired by a ghost. But Taylor is not your average dick. He works in the Nightside, "the secret hidden heart of London, where it's always the darkest part of the night and the dawn never comes..." Am I the only reader who finds himself picturing Diagon Alley?
Taylor solves the crime without leaving the bar and the bad guy comes to a suitable noir and supernatural end.
Other good stories in the book include "Dusted" by Laura Anne Gilman and "Under the Kill and Far Away" by Caitlin Kittredge.
If you like occult stories this book is worth picking up. And by the way, we will have a special feature at this site later in the week about another book of spooky tales.