Murder by Magic, an anthology edited by Rosemary Edghill, is a 2004 book that was never booklogged, but not inexplicably: anthologies are more work to booklog. But I’m trying to get rid of that very old stack of to-be-booklogged: behold my virtue. Or something.
As the cover says, this is an anthology of “crime and the supernatural,” and so the stories have two potential hurdles to jump. If they go for the detective end of crime, then they have to fit a reasonable mystery into a short story; and if they do anything remotely different or new with the supernatural elements, then they have to fit in world-building too. That’s a fair bit to ask for a story.
Of course, a story can take shortcuts. The opening story, Jennifer Roberson’s “Piece of Mind,” relies heavily on a real-life crime, which is precisely why I didn’t like it; it felt dated already in 2004, and hasn’t held up any better in the couple of years since. Lillian Stewart Carl’s “The Necromancer’s Apprentice” takes a similar approach by reimagining the death of Amy Robsart, which at least has stood the test of time as a mystery, though not one that much interests me.
Unfortunately, two of the stories stick out in my mind as badly needing some kind of shortcut, not having one, and thus collapsing under the weight of their world-building. It probably doesn’t help that the stories, Susan R. Matthews’ “Snake in the Grass” and M.J. Hamilton’s “Double Jeopardy,” were back-to-back in the anthology.
At least four of the stories are identifiable as part of an ongoing series, though this is only a problem for one of them. Debra Doyle’s “A Death in the Working” is set in the Mageworlds universe, and is a translation of a story from one culture, by a scholar from another, complete with snarky footnotes. The scholar is a minor character in Starpilot’s Grave, but you don’t need to know the series at all to enjoy the story; indeed, the snarky footnotes are a handy means of exposition. Mercedes Lackey’s “Grey Eminence” is part of a series of short stories about Victorian girls with psychic abilities (The Wizard of London is partly a fixup of the stories); it also stands alone reasonably well, though its exposition is much less graceful. Teresa Edgerton’s “Captured in Silver” is “set in an obscure corner” of The Queen’s Necklace universe, according to the introductory note; I haven’t read the book, but the story is elegant, decadent, and cynical. The fourth and least successful is Laura Anne Gilman’s “Overrush”, which is set in her “Retrievers” universe, but doesn’t have anything like a conclusion. On re-reading, I wonder if that was deliberate, setup or added context for the second book; but either way, it doesn’t work for me.
Susan Krinard’s “Murder Entailed” doesn’t appear to be part of a series, but I think it could be if the author were inclined. It does a quite nice job exploring an interesting magical system: magic is entailed, and passes at the bearer’s choice to the same-sex heir of their choosing. (Their other children are left with Residual gifts, small touches of magic.) The entailed magic is of a particular type: fire, sensing illness, water-summoning, and so forth. I quite like the idea, and I’d be pleased to read more in this world.
I don’t know that there’s more to be written after Laura Resnick’s “Doppelgangster,” but this light and funny tale of mysterious deaths among the Mafia reminds me how much I enjoyed her Disappearing Nightly (unfortunately, the sequel is currently lacking a publisher, possibly a victim of the Great Luna Downsizing). Anyway, the story is good fun and worth reading if you want to get a feel for Resnick’s lighter style.
And completing a theme, Diane Duane’s “Cold Case” isn’t obviously within any of her established universes, but it is so deeply characteristic in its themes and concerns that it almost might as well be. This isn’t a criticism; I liked the story very much. It’s just remarkable how it flashes “Diane Duane” from a mile off, as it were.
I’ve run out of themes, and I’ve also run out of stories I had something to say about: the rest were readable and, well, unremarkable. There is a pretty wide range of settings and approaches represented in the anthology, so if you’ve a taste for a little crime with your fantasy, check it out.
(And in the meantime: admire the new tags for authors, courtesy of MT 3.3! We believe in a plethora of browsing options here at Outside of a Dog.)