Unusual Suspects

Friday, July 6, 2012
Edited by Dana Stabenow

As the title suggests, there is more to this than the occult: it's a neat mix of fantasy and mystery, containing a dozen stories. Initially I had thought of it as a mix of occult and mystery, but at least one of the stories is more science fiction than occult. Rather than going over all the stories, I'll just cover the ones I found notable.

by Charlaine Harris.

This is a Sookie Stackhouse story. I've never read any other Stackhouse stories but I did like the premise of this one: wouldn't it be a great idea if a local insurance agent (who's also a witch) is able to give his clients just a little extra luck?
As it turns out … maybe not …

by Carole Nelson Douglas.

Douglas's story raises an interesting question: legally speaking, can you kill someone who's already dead?
But the confusion goes even deeper. The alleged victim here is a CinSim, short for Cinema Simulacrum. A mix of high-tech and old-fashioned grave-robbing, CinSims are (mostly illegally imported) zombies fitted with computerized chips that give them both the physical appearance and mannerisms of movie characters, and which are also supposed to "lock" them into a particular entertainment venue, so they can't go wandering all over the city (Las Vegas — well, where else, eh?)
The "deceased" — or perhaps "unplugged" would be more accurate — is Sam Spade, as portrayed by Humphrey Bogart. The narrator is Delilah Street, P.I. (Paranormal Investigator.)

The big question is, who exactly was murdered: Sam Spade? Humphrey Bogart? Or the unnamed person who provided the corpse? Although Street is not expected to untangle this legal Gordian knot, she does mention it, and it's interesting enough yet doesn't derail the story. What she actually needs to figure out is, first, who drove the corkscrew into the no-longer-animated CinSim's chest, and secondly, what was Spade/Bogart doing off his assigned patch? How — and why — did he slip his leash?

The House of Seven Spirits,
by Sharon Shinn.

Erica, the narrator, who's in the middle of a typically lousy divorce, wonders at one point if her life has been so bad lately that moving into a haunted house is actually an improvement.
And this is not just any haunted house there are no fewer than seven ghosts wandering around. Victoria and Charlotte are longtime friends who shared the house and died of carbon monoxide poisoning (and whose primary complaint is they only got to see the first couple of seasons of The X-Files); Lizzie is a nine-year-old girl who died of spinal meningitis; Edison is a middle-aged man who fell down the stairs and broke his neck (and who is constantly whining that another ghost, Martin, pushed him down the stairs); and the final three: Bradley, Suzanne, and the aforementioned Martin.
The latter trio were the first to die: Martin and Suzanne were husband and wife. Bradley was Suzanne's lover, and Martin shot the two of them when he caught them. He then died of poison self-inflicted, says the coroner's report. Their deaths have tied them to the house, along with the four who died later.
But the official report of their deaths is inaccurate. Bradley tells Erica, "Uncover the lie. Once a living person knows the truth, we will all be free."

The Duh Vice,
by Michael Armstrong.
This is much closer to science fiction than fantasy. It is set in a United States which has a whole new set of laws in place: they deal with resource allocation waste.
Each individual is allotted so many food and energy points, based on size, age and physical need. You use up too much at the start of the month, you go hungry and cold at the end of the month. You try to sneak more resources — you face charges. On a neighbour's tip, the narrator (never identified) goes to arrest a householder on a RAW1 charge — the highest level of resource allocation waste in the legal system. He thinks it's a slam-dunk case — only to find that his own problems are just beginning. The story also contains the most astonishing political stance I've ever seen in any story — one I guarantee you will never see, anywhere, in real life.

Other contributing authors and stories include Michael A. Stackpole (Looks Are Deceiving), Mike Doogan (Glamour), Donna Andrews (Spellbound), John Straley (Weight of the World), Laura Anne Gilman (Illumination), Laurie R. King (The House), Simon R. Green (Appetite for Murder) and Dana Stabenow (A Woman's Work).


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