8 Booklist May 1, 2015 www.booklistreader.com 8 Booklist May 1, 2015
World of Trouble. By Ben H. Winters. 2014. Quirk, $14.95
Think of it this way: the talented Winters has built a genre-blending trilogy from one line in the Cole Porter song “Well,
Did You Evah?”: “Have you heard it’s in the stars? Next July
we collide with Mars.” Well, it’s an asteroid, not Mars, but
the premise of Winters’ preapocalyptic trilogy is that Earth is
doomed, thanks to an asteroid hurtling our way, and, naturally,
civilization goes berserk while we await the end. World of Trouble
is the third in the series and definitely the most dystopian, but
readers should start at the beginning, with The Last Policeman
(2013). Yes, the world may be ending next July, but Winters’
hero, Hank Palace, a former cop, is still trying to solve mysteries.
Sleuths can’t resist an undiscovered fact, especially if it could be
the last fact on Earth.
First there is the ordinary world, where we muggles get and
spend and die, but just next door—sometimes through a portal,
sometimes in the pages of a book, sometimes in the deep recesses
of a few special people’s minds, sometimes in language itself—
there is another world, a sister world, and sometimes crime
straddles those worlds, requiring some extraordinary sleuthing.
The Bone Clocks. By David Mitchell. 2014. Random, $30
A special kind of genre blend called translit combines complex
literary fiction with all manner of genre styles. Mitchell’s latest novel may the quintessential example of translit. It starts as
a coming-of-age tale but quickly morphs into something else
when teenager Holly Grace Lancaster starts hearing voices (she
calls them “radio people”) and finds herself in the middle of
an epic conflict between two rival groups able to traverse time.
Multiple characters jump between multiple worlds, stretching
over many centuries, but Mitchell connects all these disparate
elements into a remarkably propulsive narrative that hums along
behind its intricate, many-cylindered engine.
The City and the City. By China Miéville. 2009. Del Rey, $16
Tyador Borlu, a lonely police detective, is assigned to the murder of a young woman found dumped in a park on the edge of
a decaying, largely forgotten European city called Beszel. But
Beszel shares the same physical space with another city, Ul Qoma;
elaborate rules exist allowing the two to exist simultaneously in
space and time, separated by the Breach, a kind of fifth dimension
demilitarized zone. This simple murder case becomes something
altogether different when it turns out to straddle both worlds. In a
few short years since its publication in 2009, The City and the City
has become a high-water mark in genre-blending.
The Demon and the City. By Liz Williams. 2006. Open Road,
This sequel to Snake Agent (2013) returns to Singapore Three,
a twenty-first-century cityscape with ready access to heaven and
hell: yes, we’re talking bordertown, and you know what nasty
places bordertowns can be (see last year’s “Hard-Boiled Gazetteer
to Border Noir”). Detective Inspector Wei Chen teams with his
underworld sidekick Zhu Irzh to solve the apparently demonic
murder of a young woman. Fantasy and crime enthusiasts will
dive right into this imaginative and surreal fusion of Chinese
mythology, paranormal high jinks, and suspenseful sleuthing.
The Fold. By Peter Clines. 2015. Crown, $25
There’s this device called the Albuquerque Door. Walk through
it, and dimensions collapse. Take a step, and you’ve gone hundreds of feet; play with that a little, and you’re teleporting! Cool,
right? Well, not exactly, if the wrong crowd jimmies the door a
little to do some really uncool stuff. But there’s this high-school
teacher who’s really smart and might be able to fix things—if
there’s time. Thriller, sf, fantasy, political conspiracy: throw into
the blender and fold.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. By
Haruki Murakami. 1991. Vintage, $15.95 (9780679743460).
Murakami, along with David Mitchell (above), teaches the
master class in translit, but you better bring your A-game when
you venture into one of his twisty, world-inside-your-brain
worlds. There’s a whole lot of pop culture in every Murakami
novel, but don’t just eat the icing: there are more layers in this
and every Murakami novel than in any of the cakes on those TV
baking shows. This one is thoroughly Chandleresque, except for
the fact that the crimes and the sleuths and the bad guys are all
within the two sides of one man’s brain. Think of one of those
scenes in a Chandler novel where Marlowe gets drugged by an
evil psychiatrist, and then multiply it by several thousand.
Lexicon. By Max Barry. 2013. Penguin, $26.95
“Words can never hurt me,” our mothers told us to chant to
ourselves when we were taunted. Wrong, moms. Words can not
only hurt us, they can also bring down civilization. Or so it appears in this intriguing blend of coming-of-age thriller and sf
adventure in which two teens find themselves entrapped in a
clandestine organization bent on taking over the world through
the power of language. It’s war of the words, but it’s no Orson
The Traveler. By John Twelve Hawks. 2005. Doubleday, o.p.
This first volume in the Fourth Realm trilogy announced the
arrival of a major if mysterious talent (Twelve Hawks is a pseud-
onym, and the author’s real identity has remained unknown).
A fast-paced combination of thriller and fantasy, The Traveler
concerns two Los Angeles brothers, the remaining survivors of a
secret society called the Travelers, who have been marked for assassination by another secret society, the Tabula. More secrets: a
third group of young women, called Harlequins, are dedicated to
protecting the Travelers. Twelve Hawks takes the complex premise and builds a thoroughly fascinating yarn from it, drawing
us into the thriller plot and engaging us in the elaborate world-building needed to sustain it.
The Well of Lost Plots. By Jaspar Fforde. 2004. Penguin, $15
Of all the premises in all the genres, blended or otherwise,
thank heavens this one walked into ours. Thursday Next is what
we might call a literary detective—books are living things in
Fforde’s world, and sometimes you need a shamus to jump into
the pages and set things right. This time plots are disappearing,
and without story, well, we’re in trouble. Fforde is a terrifically
agile writer, and his central conceit allows him to stack his novels
with seemingly endless layers. Amid the humor and wordplay,
there’s always a decent mystery and a book lover’s plea to save
the world’s messiness from corporate streamlining.