Mike Resnick is one of those protean writers who should be much better known than he is. I remember Santiago as one of the most quietly spectacular works of science fiction I’ve ever read: a Quest, an Odyssey, beautifully conceived and masterfully rendered as a series of vignettes, all around the central mystery: “Who is Santiago?”
“Protean” I say, because now Pyr has issued two of Resnick’s entries into the “fantasy noir detective” subgenre, tales of John Justin Mallory, a private investigator in a Manhattan that parallels our own and sometimes intrudes. Unless we’re intruding on it.
In the first, Stalking the Unicorn, it’s New Year’s Eve and Mallory is down and out: he’s been evicted from his apartment, is soon to be evicted from his office, and his wife has run off with his partner, who also took all their cash. And then Mürgenstürm the elf appears. Mürgenstürm has lost a unicorn entrusted to him for safekeeping. The consequences for the elf if the unicorn is not recovered are dire: his guild will have him put to death in unpleasant ways for betraying its standards. And he has cash — lots of cash. This, as it turns out, is Mallory’s introduction to the other Manhattan, where “yellow” cabs are brightly painted elephants, and any corner is where you expect to find it — but you have to expect to find it. Among other events, Mallory soon meets Felina, the cat girl who becomes his sidekick, and the Grundy, the most powerful demon on the East Coast, who is fascinated by Mallory because Mallory is not afraid of him (it?).
In the second adventure, Stalking the Vampire, it’s All Hallow’s Eve, the big holiday in Manhattan-other, where Mallory is now a resident. He has a new partner, Winnifred Carruthers, who has a gun collection — and she knows how to use each and every one of them: among her other attributes, she’s an aficionado of “blood sports.” Her nephew is coming to visit for the holiday; he, of course, winds up dead, but not until after being bitten by a vampire. As it turns out, though, the vampire in question is not the murderer. The chase leads to a much more formidable opponent, who goes by the name Vlad Drachma.
What is unique about Resnick’s version of this category is the Alice-in-Wonderland quality of the storytelling: everyone (and everything) is perfectly rational, perfectly logical, it’s just that their basic assumptions have very little to do with our reality. In Resnick’s hands, this leads not only to bizarre situations, but some dialogue that is spectacularly nonsensical. Felina is a star in this regard: she is the perfect picture of feline amorality, whose measure of everyone’s value is whether they will 1) feed her, and/or 2) “skritch” her back.
Resnick also has a romp through the areas of writers, detective fiction (the excerpt from “Stalking the Vampire” by Scaly Jim Chandler — actually a dragon named Nathan Botts — is a must-read), the courts, science fiction, academics (Prof. Seldon Hari, Chief Curator of the Museum of Unnatural History, does double duty in this regard), and the popular conceptions of just about everything.
For something that seems at first glance to be light and fairly inconsequential, these two are surprisingly rich, bizarre, and funny. But then it’s Mike Resnick — I should have known.
(Pyr, 2008 [orig. Tor Books, 1987])