(Down & Out Books)
Edited by Chantelle Aimée Osman
This short story anthology has something unique. Usually a book of mystery stories is either mundane or mystical; these stories could be either, and guessing if the whodunit was normal or paranormal adds an extra spice to the book.
It starts with “The Abomination of Fensmere,” which is a gothic horror story done as a Nancy Drew mystery. Well done, Lucy A. Snyder!
Next is “(Ms.) Taken Identity” by Timothy Zahn. It’s a story where creatures called Doppels—as in doppelgangers—can take the form and identity of others. A murdered female doppel is discovered at an upper-crust party and a detective who specializes in doppels is called in to discover why she was killed. Nice and twisty, this one.
“The Name of the Saints” by Bryan Young tells the tale of the inspection of a missionary outpost (that works with orcs) by a Sister Saint, a religious shieldmaiden. It’s told through the eyes of her traveling companion, a young man about to be posted at the mission. They walk in on a recent murder that’s being blamed on a member of their order who is an orc. Whodunit has a great answer here.
The harsh “Morning Star” by Nik Korpon is about a man, Henraek, who lost his son, and risks professional and personal ruin to help a woman find her missing son. You see, the 14-year-old missing kid is the son of a local scumbag fence and the police won’t lift a finger. But via Henraek’s job he has access to some science-fantasy tech where he illegally drains the fence’s memories, play them back, and look for clues.
Cats figure prominently in the Japanese “Paw-trait of a Murderer” by John Helfers. A cat was the only witness to a murder. How could that dumb witness tell what it saw? I was thrown off by the fact that the old detective’s assistant was a young man named Kitsune, which is the name of a Japanese folklore creature who is a magical fox. Magic and foxes had nothing to do with this story, and the character name was unnecessary.
But the next one by Chantelle Aimée Osman didn’t have an unnecessary word in it. Done in the style of an old hard-boiled detective yarn, “Plugged” was a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a robotic wife.
“’Anything. Just please, find her, Mr. Turner. She’s my whole world.’ This from a man who married a toaster. But his life wasn’t my business. At least, not until the check cleared.”
Great fun and a good head-scratcher of a crime to solve.
What is causing the destructive, odd fires in “Fire and Fuel” by Dylan Birtolo? Was it tech, was it magical, and then there was the not so little problem of how to stop the problem once a female detective and an unlikely assistant encounter it at the source. A well-told tale, but it felt like the beginning of a novel which is always disappointing because I wanted to read more.
“Doomed to Repeat” by Ronald T. Garner is the most ghastly story in the entire book. It chronicles a search for a serial killer worthy of an episode of “Criminal Minds.” The ending has a twist that you will not soon forget.
If the previous story is ghastly in a physical sense, Donald J. Bingle give us a tale of psychological horror and mystery in “The Waking Dead.” What evil stalks a teenager newly moved to the area, and what drove the person who’d lived there before her into an insane asylum?
This is followed by one of my favorite stories in the entire volume. “Law of Negation” by Michael A. Stackpole, tells the story of a man whose wife believes a perhaps mercenary and greedy “fortune teller.” Her husband wishes that she’d not believe the rumors of his impending death, and the eccentric Merlin Bloodstone is hired to help. Is he a charlatan or is the fortune teller correct, or is it something else entirely? I’m not giving it away. This story is worth buying the entire book; it’s a delight.
Next is “Witness” by Taylor Ker, which takes place in a world where the police solve most of their murder case load by talking to ghosts. Two young men — Sidney and Nathan — have had their lives destroyed by the murder of a high school friend, Mari. Clues start to emerge that may give them their lives back and solve Mari’s murder. But then Mari’s ghost finally shows up, and complicates things…
I felt “Bargaining Chip” by Daniel Myers was a bit strained. But other my favorite story in the anthology was “DuckBob: Hunting Apartments.” Aaron Rosenberg leads us on a merry chase of missing persons, missing apartments, and entire missing floors for some buildings. It’s a bizarrely cheerful and odd story with an unexpected solution.
The book closes with Gregory A. Wilson’s story of two goblins, “Lock and Wat, ” who are brought in by their human detective counterpart to solve a triple murder that seems to implicate three hapless goblins. Lock and Wat solve the murders (or do they?)
Anyone who is both a science fiction/fantasy fan and loves mysteries will be enchanted by this book.