I understand exactly why “The Automated Detective” came up in conversation after my friends read my review of “The Manual of Detection”. The mash-up of sci-fi/fantasy and hard-boiled detective fiction really is an up and coming genre. If my review of “Manual” gave the impression that it controls that territory unchallenged, I apologize. On the other hand, “The Manual of Detection” thrives in a world completely different from this book. The one is a straight-faced cocktail of period detective story and surrealist dream sequence; the other, an outrageous spoof of the era of pulp-fiction that scatters its in-jokes, machine-gun style, across both genres indiscriminately.
In the sixth Greywalker novel, Harper Blaine—a private eye who has one foot in the world of magic—is doing a little pre-trial footwork for a Seattle attorney when a ghost hires her to solve his murder. Joined first by her pet ferret Chaos, and later by her techie-spook boyfriend Quinton, she spends this book investigating two cases in the Olympic Peninsula, a region of Washington state that may already seem familiar to fans of the Twilight series. Lack of sparkly vampires notwithstanding, it proves to be a mystery fraught with darkness, danger, encounters with otherworldly beings, and a war between mages over control of the energies welling up from a lake full of ancient ghosts.
In her fifth outing, Harper Blaine—a tough, sexy, female private detective who sees dead people walking around Seattle—comes to a turning point in her career as a Greywalker. The monster who groomed her to become what she is, is almost ready to use her for the fiendish purpose he has cherished for centuries. Harper’s closeness to the Grey has become a torment that will soon grow to overwhelm all her mental and physical filters. The weird side is becoming more solid to her than the real world. The changes happening to her seem sure either to kill her or drive her mad—neither of which will save her from being used by Wygan, the so-called Pharaohn-ankh-astet, in his bid to control all the magic in the world.
Seattle private detective Harper Blaine is just doing her job when, in this book’s opening pages, somebody up and beats her to death for no apparent reason. Don’t worry; she gets better. But after being dead for around two minutes, there’s no going back to business as usual. Even after the physical injuries are healed, Harper is haunted by strange images that flicker on the edge of her vision, and sometimes even more aggressively weird experiences. Her doctor refers her to some friends of his who specialize in problems at the fringe of science, if not beyond.
The sixth book in the “Sisters Grimm” series features another “fractured fairy-tale” to delight middle-grade readers. Sabrina and Daphne go through a lot in this installment. While Sabrina finds herself reaching the age where she can’t help worrying about how she looks, Daphne suddenly—and, to Sabrina, irritatingly—takes to imitating her older sister.
Book 14 of “The Dresden Files” follows up on Chicago-based wizard/detective Harry Dresden’s apparent death in “Changes” and post-death experiences in “Ghost Story”. If you haven’t read those books yet, I’ve already spoiled that much; to say anything about this book, I’ll have to spoil a lot more.
In book 3 of the second quartet of “Thursday Next” novels, we find Swindon U.K.’s greatest literary detective facing a vast array of mid-life challenges, such as controlling the residual pain in the leg she broke in her previous adventure, not being bitter when command of the newly re-organized Spec Ops literary division is handed to a younger agent, settling into a new career as director of the Wessex All You Can Eat at Fatso’s (Drink Not Included) Library Service, and having trouble remembering to visit the body-art parlor to ask why she got a tattoo reminding her that her daughter Jenny is a mind worm created by a super-villain able to tamper with people’s memories.
If you haven’t read the first five “Thursday Next” fantasy-comedy-mystery-thrillers, or at least my reviews of them, I’m not sure how to begin to describe Book 6 to you. There’s just so much going on in them. Whether it is worth your while to find out what you’re missing, you may judge from a personal anecdote: While listening to Emily Gray reading the audio-book edition of this book during a car trip, I once had to pull over until I could regain my composure, I was laughing so hard. Only once, to be sure; but laughs of one size or another crowded thickly into this brainy, zany, complex, amazing book.
Horowitz builds his original “Holmes” novel on what must be an amazingly detailed knowledge of canon Holmes, organized so well that he makes it seem simple. Even though his narrator—Sherlock’s sidekick Dr. John Watson—admits that the present case is unlike any other that he has chronicled; even while he points out the limitations of the type of tidy detective stories represented by Conan Doyle’s work; even while he admits that in real life, the story of a crime does not end when a sleuth deduces who done it; even while the detecting duo explores a darker, drearier side of London life than Conan Doyle ever touched on—nevertheless the personality of this novel’s hero is distinctively “Holmes”.
Book 13 of (so far) 14 in “The Dresden Files” finds Harry Dresden—detective, wizard, guardian of all things Chicago—tasked with solving his own murder. It’s not easy, being dead. When you’re only a shade of your former self—an intangible, invisible, inaudible presence made up of memories, thoughts, and a pinch of will—there isn’t much you can do. Even with loads of raw magical power, you’re limited to spells that affect denizens of the spiritual world. Unless… well, there are a couple of exceptions. Having friends who can see (or at least hear) dead people, for example.