Sometimes hard-boiled stuff pops up in genres you wouldn’t expect it. I mean, I think most fantasy fans are probably familiar by now with Butcher’s Dresden series (start with Storm Front). But I suspect most haven’t taken a deeper look and found Liz Williams’ Detective Inspector Chen series, set in a future Singapore where all mythologies are apparently real. The first one is Snake Agent, and there are two more after that, The Demon and the City and Precious Dragon. Inspector Chen works the supernatural beat, dealing especially with cases where Hell and Heaven intercede, and ends up partnered with a demon. He’s got a motley assortment of sidekicks, and the tone moves from gritty to somewhat madcap.
Similarly, I have recommended Tamora Pierce’s stuff before, even though it is hidden away in the young adult fantasy section. Her first book featuring Beka Cooper, Terrier, was a seriously hardboiled adventure, and the long-awaited follow-on, Bloodhound, is similar. This time there’s a counterfeiting ring that necessitates a trip to a port city, there’s political corruption, thieves’ rings, prostitution, the works. Check out what kids are reading these days…
Finally, the series that prompted this post in the first place is the unfortunately difficult to find pair of Sarah Tolerance books by Madeleine Robins, perhaps better known as the author of The Stone War, which was a rather well-reviewed book. I got pointed to these from John Hemry’s website (he who now writes under the name Jack Campbell), and I took his advice to look past the cover art — because despite the look of a romance novel, these are actually “hard-boiled Regency” novels. Sarah Tolerance is a Ruined Woman who now works as an “agent of inquiry.” Her lover was a dueling master, so she’s handy with a sword, and she lives in a small cottage behind her aunt’s upscale brothel; her cases take her from locating a mysterious Italian fan with great political consequences in Point of Honour to clearing a well-reared lady’s name when her husband is found bludgeoned to death in her bed in Petty Treason. The detail is extraordinary, and if you think Regency must mean romance, these are the books with which to learn about “birching houses” (Regency S&M parlors) and other underbellies of polite society. The novels even take place in a slightly alternate history, so you can even justify them from an SF/F perspective if you want. Highly recommended — it is very unfortunate there are only two.
Funny how small the world is — I found Robins’ blog, only to get pointed to a site where she co-blogs with a number of other folks including several favorites of mine. And lo, there’s Caroline Spector, better known to many readers of this blog as the wife of Warren Spector, but a fine writer in her own right.
In any case — if you’re tired of mundane gritty mysteries, these all make a fine change of pace.