by Liz Williams, © 2005, Night Shade Books 2008, mass market paperback, 284 Pages $7.99
First in the Detective Inspector Chen series
The cross-genre novel has been gaining momentum with readers for several years and I’ve been sampling some of them recently. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s excellent SF-mystery The Disappeared was reviewed on this blog recently and here is another fine example of how gripping and enjoyable a well written crossover can be.
This is a police procedural, though Detective Inspector Chen uses his rosary more then he flashes his badge in an occult-horror novel that has enough occult elements to satisfy dark fantasy readers.
Chen is the Singapore Three police department’s snake agent, in charge of supernatural and mystical investigations. In a classic P.I. situation, Chen is asked to interview a wealthy woman who wants him to find her missing daughter. Why is Chen given the case? Because something about this one just feels wrong, and it soon proves to be true when the girl’s ghost appears, then the mother is possessed, then killed.
Chen has several problems: His colleagues don’t trust him and his mystical ways, he has offended his patron goddess who protects and empowers him, and he has troubles at home. Used to working alone, he’s not happy to be assigned a partner especially since it’s one of Hell’s own vice officers, Seneschal Zhu Irzh, in our world to investigate the illegal trade in souls.
As the case progresses, danger and political pressures both earthly and otherworldly increase. The investigation is blocked at every turn. When a high-level plot is revealed, it becomes obvious – perhaps too late – that the stakes are higher than anyone had previously suspected.
All this may sound like an unlikely premise for a novel, but Williams makes it work, and work well. When I bought the book, after reading the blurb on the publisher’s website (here) I thought that sounds like something interesting and boy, was I right. This one kept me up late turning pages, and I grew to enjoy the characters while marveling at Williams’ ability to invent and describe a Hell unlike any in my previous experience as a reader. Dante’s Hell this is not, and that’s a good thing, for both the characters and the reader. This is good stuff.
The series now has four entries and a fifth due next month: 1. Snake Agent 2. The Demon and the City 3. Precious Dragon 4. The Shadow Pavilion 5. The Iron Khan (February 2010)
Night Shade Press certainly deserves credit for publishing this series and many other interesting books in a variety of genres and cross-genres. NSP is one of the best small presses today.