In Book 2 of the “Parasol Protectorate,” a racy supernatural riff on Victorian steampunk, something has taken the fangs out of London’s werewolves and vampires. No worries! Lady Maccon (formerly Miss Alexia Tarabotti) is on the case. In her role as the preternatural adviser to Her Majesty’s Shadow Council—a role she earned by being the only soulless, supernatural-powers-neutralizing, respectable married lady in town—she gate-crashes a reunion between her werewolf husband and his former pack, somewhere in the southern Scottish Highlands.
The author of the “Secret Country” trilogy, when asked to contribute a volume to a series of fairy-tale novelizations, delved instead into a traditional Scots ballad about a girl named Janet who saves her lover from being sacrificed to the powers of Hell by the Queen of Faerie. Transferring the setting to the campus of a small midwestern college in the 1970s, she weaves this eerie storyline into a tale of ghosts, time travelers, young people discovering love and friendship, and the magic of literature, especially English and ancient Greek.
The first of (at present) five books in a series titled “The Parasol Protectorate” introduces a world that combines Victorian-era Steampunk with vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. It’s a romantic comedy of manners with a broad streak of sensuous eroticism, ripe for an Adult Content Advisory. How ripe? Let me tell you. One day on my way to work, while listening to the audio-book expertly narrated by Emily Grey, I had to turn off my car stereo several blocks short of my destination. No more needs to be said.
In the first six books of the Greywalker series, Seattle-based private eye Harper Blaine uses her unique abilities to interact with such paranormal beings as vampires, ghosts, poltergeists, necromancers, zombies, Chinese demons, Native American monsters, Egyptian gods, and Thames riverspawn. Her cases have taken her underground, into the ivory tower of academics, back in time (sort of), into the wilds of “Twilight” country, and back from the dead. Now, finally, in Book 7 she fulfills the possibility inherent in a series by an author who lives on a boat, in a magical mystery involving the paranormal sea-life of Puget Sound.
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.
Fantasy and hardboiled detective fiction have met before this novel—I cannot restrain myself from name-dropping “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon—but I don’t think any mash-up of the two has ever been quite like this book, its author’s first novel. It takes place in an unnamed, rainy city where the boundary between dreams and reality have become blurred. Here the forces of order are represented by a towering Agency whose detectives, clerks, and other operatives, work within the lines of strict policies. After years of successful crime-solving, hardly anything remains of the Agency’s nemesis—a traveling carnival that came to town and never left again, and whose troupe included the villain in some of the Agency’s greatest cases.
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.
In the fourth “Greywalker” novel, featuring a tough female private detective with paranormal powers, Harper Blaine plunges deeper into the undead subculture and encounters varieties of vampire that I don’t know how to spell. So it’s going to be tough telling you about them. But I shouldn’t complain, because if anybody has a tough time on this case, it’s Harper.
In this sequel to “The Ruby in the Smoke”, several years have passed. The year is now 1878, and Sally’s business as a financial consultant is growing, together with her partnership with professional photographer Webster Garland, his dashing nephew Frederick who moonlights as a private detective, and their cockney friend Jim Taylor, who haunts the backstage of London theaters when he isn’t writing melodramas or helping Fred and Sally. It is Jim who brings Fred his latest case: a stage magician named Mackinnon fears for his life after receiving psychic impressions of a murder committed by a powerful industrialist.