Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Detective/Thriller Fantasy

The fantasy analogue of detective/thriller genre fiction: detections in which criminal puzzles are solved by reason, thrillers where miscreants are pursued via melodramatic revelation and confrontation, and mixtures of the two – but using fantasy motifs and, normally, a fantasy setting. Occult Detectives, who tend to operate in the mundane world, are separately discussed.

An early detective example is Ernest Bramah's The Moon of Much Gladness (1932), which spoofs contemporary crime writers with its Absurdist hunt for the supposed stealer of a Mandarin's pigtail. John Dickson Carr used Timeslip fantasy to give his historical mysteries a modern viewpoint character. The Lord Darcy Alternate-World series by Randall Garrett offers classic fair-play detection, with restrained use of fantasy elements: forensic Magic reveals roughly as much as science might have, and crimes are committed by mundane means despite magical red herrings – thus the "preservator", the equivalent of a deep-freeze ("The Muddle of the Woad" 1965 Analog), in which one ingenious accomplice keeps the body fresh, is fairly introduced in advance. Garrett also amusingly suggests that Great Detectives' typical author-guided intuition is itself a psychic Talent. Barry Hughart's Master Li Chinoiserie series features Holmesian deductions with the authentic meretricious dazzle, turning on esoteric scholarship which readers cannot hope to match. Barbara Hambly's The Witches of Wenshar (1987) echoes Agatha Christie's formula of discovering the lone murderer in an isolated and dwindling group of suspects, which here is an informal school of magic.

Thrillers include G K Chesterton's The Man who was Thursday (1908), which grounds its metaphysical nightmare in a bizarre cadre of Scotland Yard detectives identified as "The Last Crusade" and briefed to sniff out Wrongness in society. More usually, thrillers are Low Fantasy, like Anthony Boucher's comic "The Compleat Werewolf" (1942 Unknown), whose inadvertent Werewolf hero tangles with a spy ring. Hapless private investigators stray behind the stage-set of Reality in Robert A Heinlein's "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" (1942 Unknown). One unusual short thriller, ghosted by sf author Cleve Cartmill (1908-1964) for Leslie Charteris (1907-1993), is "Dawn" (1949; vt "The Darker Drink" 1963), taking Charteris's Picaresque hero The Saint into another man's Dream-world. Chandleresque private-eye fantasies include Glen Cook's lighthearted Mr Garrett stories and Simon Hawke's unlikely exploits of a feline detective in The Nine Lives of Catseye Gomez (1992), part of his Wizard of 4th Street sequence.

A recent hybrid is the police-procedural fantasy thriller, such as Terry Pratchett's Discworld farces featuring the harassed men (and others) of the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch: Guards! Guards! (1989), Men at Arms (1993) and «Feet of Clay» (1996), the last including an ingenious means of administering poison. Simon R Green's Hawk & Fisher series, beginning with No Haven for the Guilty (1990; vt Hawk & Fisher US), stars a tough City Guard Duo whose swordplay is bad news for criminals and innocent bystanders alike. [DRL]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.