6 Booklist May 1, 2015 www.booklistreader.com 6 Booklist May 1, 2015
The terms genre-bending and genre-blending are relatively new arrows in the readers’-advisory quiver, but the phe- nomenon isn’t new at all. Nearly 50 years ago, Philip K.
Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and there’s
no doubt that it throws hard-boiled detectives into the blender
along with robots and other sf trappings. Chances are, too, that
somewhere along the way, Isaac Asimov probably blended a few
genres. So, no, it’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s a popular one
today, and has been for quite a few years.
Genre-blending, at least the strain that includes crime fiction
as one of its ingredients, really took off with the rise of urban
fantasy, especially Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the ongoing series
starring a Chicago investigator who moves between human and
magical worlds. It’s that “other worlds” idea to which this edition
of our hard-boiled gazetteer (the nineteenth in the series) is devoted. Take a recognizable, hard-boiled crime-fiction world but
give it a tweak or two, either by moving the action to another
planet or, perhaps, inside a character’s head. Yes, it’s crime fiction; yes, we recognize certain emblems of the hard-boiled style,
but—whoa!—there are vampires about. Or if you cross that portal, there’s a whole different city there, and it has crime, too.
The variations on this theme are infinite, but it’s often more
than a little difficult to decide what’s simply a suspenseful vampire
novel and what’s a true genre blend involving vampires and crime
fiction. So we’ve consciously erred on the side of brevity, offering a very few examples among worlds of rich diversity. Imagine
a subway map in which the various lines detail different kinds of
worlds that blend with hard-boiled fiction. We’ve only listed some
of the stops on these lines—new stops keep cropping up all the
time—but if you’re a hard-boiled crime fan who might like to see
what happens when a Chandlerian sleuth drives a car that flies,
or, conversely, if you’re an urban-fantasy fan who doesn’t mind the
idea of vampires in trench coats, then you should pay the fare, get
on board, and check out a few other worlds.
It’s our world except we’re not there. Animals-only in these crime
novels starring critter sleuths (assuming stuffed animals count as
critters, that is). No cute, cozy talking cats allowed here; that’s
another planet in a different galaxy.
Amberville. By Tim Davys. 2009. Harper, $10
There’s this death list, see? Nobody knows how your name gets
on it, but everybody knows what happens when it does, which
is why a gangster hires our hero, an adman turned sleuth, to
get the gangster’s name removed. Sounds like straightforward
hard-boiled fare, and it is, except for this little wrinkle: all the
characters are stuffed animals. This very strange but very compelling novel has been called The Big Sleep meets Animal Farm: now
The Unscratchables. By Cornelius Kane. 2009. Scribner,
Max (“Crusher”) McNabb is a good cop, a bit sloppy in that
Columbo way, working a tough murder case out of the San
Bernardo homicide unit. One thing, though: Max is a bull terrier, and his world is an entirely animal one. Because the murder
victim is a cat, Max is forced to work with a partner from the
FBI (Feline Bureau of Investigation) called Cassius Lap, a Siamese who is in every way Max’s opposite: stylish, neat, drinks
soy milk. As with Amberville, this novel is not cute (oh, maybe a
little); it’s hard-boiled to a fault; and it uses the genre’s conventions perfectly. After a while, you mostly forget that the animal
characters are, well, animals.
Home to demons of every stripe (except vampires and werewolves, who get their own subway lines, and zombies, who do
their blending with Jane Austen, not Raymond Chandler). The
sleuths who battle the demons in Demon Town may be wizards
or may not, and they may wear their fedoras at jaunty angles,
or not. They do all investigate crimes, but as in the mundane
world, sometimes they solve them, and sometimes they don’t.
The Automatic Detective. By A. Lee Martinez. 2008. Tor,
Where does a red, 700-pound robot PI hang his trench coat?
Anywhere he wants to in the technocracy called Empire City.
Mack Megaton is prone to squash furniture, walk through walls,
and demolish jet cars while leaving a trail of angry mutants and
aliens in his wake. Acting under the advice of his shrink, he decides to do something constructive, like save the world. Martinez
crafts a private eye in the best tradition of hard-boiled futuristic
detection, with plenty of beautiful babes and evil geniuses, and
written in classic wisecracking first-person narrative.
Sandman Slim. By Richard Kadrey. 2009. Harper, $12.99
Raffish magician James Butler Hickok Stark returns from an
11-year stint in Hell, where he’s been slaughtering monsters to
amuse jaded demons. Now he’s back, pretty much unkillable,
and out to settle some scores with a gang called the Circle.
This unrelentingly paced mix of thriller and straight-up hor-
ror (watch for friction burns on your page-turning finger)
blends the cinematic delights of tough-guy noir with such
smart-mouthed gore fests as Reanimator and Army of Darkness,
BY BILL OTT