Dana Stabenow, editor,
Powers of Detection:
Stories of Mystery & Fantasy

(Ace, 2004)

When Dana Stabenow's first attempt at sword and sorcery came out too long for a murder-in-a-fantasy-setting anthology being put together by another editor, she decided to put together an anthology of her own. She asked for tales of murder in either a fantasy or science fiction setting, and a host of talented authors, including such well-known names as Simon R. Green, Charlaine Harris, Anne Perry and Anne Bishop, responded. While only one author, Mike Doogan, took the science fiction approach, the 12 stories assembled here in Powers of Detection: Stories of Mystery & Fantasy cover a wide range of settings and situations, some of them more magical than others. There is not a bad story in the lot, although a few are rather predictable and borderline pedantic.

Donna Andrews gets the ball rolling quite well with "Cold Spell," an entertaining murder-mystery (in which the victim dies of a knife wound without having been stabbed) puzzled out by a master wizard with a bad cold and his surprisingly capable apprentice. Simon R. Green takes us to "The Nightside, Needless to Say," where a detective wakes up dead and works to solve his own murder. It's fluff, but it's fun fluff purely in the vein of Green's Nightside milieu. In John Straley's "Lovely," the detecting is done by a raven -- he doesn't care who did what to whom and why; he just wants to be there when the bad guy murders another potentially juicy meal. Anne Bishop, author of the fantastic Black Jewels Trilogy, provides the bloodiest case of murder and mayhem, as befitting the sort of activities often found in the world of the Blood, where "The Price" must always be paid in the end. A powerful witch seems to have it out for the male population, and her dark work is impressive enough to momentarily disrupt the honeymoon of Daemon Sadi and Jaenelle. In "Fairy Dust," Charlaine Harris shows you one way to kill a fairy -- and also why you should think twice about it if your intended victim has siblings.

Anne Perry's "The Judgement," which chronicles a trial for witchcraft, proved a little disappointing to me, largely because the author kept going out of her way to tell me how the sanctimonious lawyer and judge felt about what they were doing -- and the twist at the end didn't really work for me. Sharon Shinn's "The Sorcerer's Assassin" is a rather light-hearted take on the subject of murder among the instructors at a school for mages. Michael Armstrong's "The Boy Who Chased Seagulls," which draws upon an old Aleut legend regarding seagulls (and why you shouldn't make them mad), may be the best story in this collection, even though it doesn't truly fit the overall theme. Fans of Laura Anne Gilman's Retrievers novels will probably enjoy her contribution, "Palimpsest," more than I did; I get the impression the characters are more significant than this particular story. Mike Doogan's "The Death of Clickclickwhistle" gives us a murder-mystery onboard a starship carrying a strange assortment of interstellar diplomats, while Jay Caselberg's well-written "The Cairene Dawn" is so blatantly obvious (to everyone but the protagonist) a modern retelling of an ancient Egyptian legend that I was turned off from the start. The collection ends with the editor's own story, "Justice is a Two-Edged Sword," a sword-and-sorcery tale in which justice is indeed meted out by the power of the staff of Truth and the sword of Justice.

Overall, I think Powers of Detection will prove more interesting to fantasy fans than anyone else. Some of the mysteries explored in these pages are far too predictable to impress the seasoned mystery reader, and the cast of characters are on occasion more inventive than the situations being explored. It's by no means a bad collection, though, as I can't say I truly disliked a single one of the stories -- and any book featuring contributions from the likes of Bishop and Green is worthy of attention.

by Daniel Jolley
5 August 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.