Robert Weinberg,
The Occult Detective
(Twilight, 2005)

As Stefan Dziemianowicz points out in his introduction, occult detectives are popping up all over the place these days, but Sidney Taine is the real deal. The likes of a John Taylor may be able to find anything, but I daresay only Taine could sneak aboard the Midnight El or talk a computer down from the proverbial ledge.

Taine may look like your average private detective, but he's got quite a few tricks up his sleeve. They don't call him "The New Age Detective" for nothing, as he brings to bear years of knowledge and experience in the occult arts in addition to his quick thinking and uncanny investigative instincts.

The Occult Detective is a truly impressive collection of stories featuring this most unflappable of private eyes as well as his sister Sydney (who lives 18 dimensions away from him and has her own unique set of talents) -- seven stories in all, each of them eminently well-written and exceedingly entertaining.

"The Midnight El" recounts Taine's most difficult missing person case to date. Finding a woman who vanished at a local Chicago train station is the easy part; getting back home -- with or without her -- is the real challenge, as Taine's wits are put to the ultimate test by the world's oldest and most familiar transportation provider -- who is not in the business of returning his clients to the real world. "Terror By Night" is the most horror-laced of the collection's seven stories, although I must admit it is my least favorite of the bunch. Here, Taine is called upon to solve a string of late-night disappearances at a local office building. I don't think this story packs all that much of a punch, even though the case ultimately threatens to end Taine's career prematurely. Science fiction comes calling in "The Apocalypse Quatrain," a story that asks what would happen if the Pentagon's ultimate defense computer began making its own decisions based on the "facts" of Nostradamus' quatrains.

Did someone say zombies? Weinberg has you covered. Sydney Taine (Sid's sister) gets up close and personal with one such creature newly arisen from the grave. Those greedy, old-time gangsters just won't take death lying down -- not when they have a criminal empire to run. Sidney is also featured in "Enter, the Eradicator!" Here, her comic-book origins come to the fore as she is summoned to a different universe to help that world's friendly neighborhood superheroes overcome the indomitable threat of a cosmic vampire.

Finally, we have two stories originally written for Arthurian-themed anthologies. "The Children of May" is a surprisingly touching story that grows out of a mysterious client's emotional quest to locate the fabled Excalibur. "Seven Drops of Blood," on the other hand, features a cast of dangerous characters trying to get their hands on the Holy Grail. Weinberg gives us a most unusual twist on the tradition of this most sacred of artifacts, then adds a healthy dose of black magic to really stir things up.

All in all, The Occult Detective is a barn-burner of a good read. Robert Weinberg's storytelling prowess is exceeded only by his creativity. While Taine's adventures will appeal more directly to fans of horror, detective fiction and fantasy/science fiction, anyone who enjoys good writing is almost guaranteed to come away from The Occult Detective wanting more of the same.

review by
Daniel Jolley

21 July 2007

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