Published by Pyr
Urban Fantasy. Detective Wizard(s). Mafioso Sorceress. Vampire Hunter. P.I. in Fantasyland. Paranormal Romance. Whatever you call it, books with some or all of those elements is one of hottest subgenres of Speculative Fiction today. This just goes to show that Mike Resnick was ahead of the ballgame considering his first John Justin Mallory novel, Stalking the Unicorn, was originally published in 1987, six years prior to the first Anita Blake novel.
It’s New Year’s Eve and Private Eye John Justin Mallory is down on his luck; his wife left him to be with his (former) partner in the detective agency; he’s very far behind on all of his bills; and his coffee mugs keep breaking. His luck gets even worse when an elf appears and begs Mallory to help find a missing unicorn. Mallory, ever the realist, is not easily convinced that what he sees and is being asked to do are real. Soon enough, Mallory realizes he is “no longer in Kansas,” especially when giant elephants parade through the streets as taxis, leprechauns cause problems, and a sensual cat-girl takes a liking to Mallory. All of this only heightens Mallory’s sense of frustration. Like the reader, Mallory is thrust into a magical Manhattan with only an untrustworthy elf and Mallory’s perceptions to define the world. However, Mallory wasn’t just handed a PI license and his ingenuity and deductive skills play out very nicely in the other Manhattan.
Like a lot of Resnick’s stories, Stalking the Unicorn is marked by a briskly paced story, told primarily through dialogue. The entirety of novel takes place in one night, and in that short time, Resnick amply builds both the characters and the world they inhabit. Mallory encounters a plethora of fantasy “staples” as he tries to find the missing unicorn: gnomes (who feed on subway tokens), elves, leprechauns, magicians, the aforementioned taxi-elephants, a 13th floor, and a big game hunter (who hunts dragons, unicorns, chimera, etc). Here, the familiarity many readers have with these character types works well in two ways – Resnick doesn’t need to go into too much depth of explanation. On the other hand, preexisting familiarity also allows Resnick to tweak them in his own way.
As the novel draws to a close, Mallory comes into contact with perhaps the second most intriguing character in the novel – the Grundy. Resnick set up the Grundy as a not-so-typical evil overlord, but more of a creature of balance, whose role in the novel is almost an anti-Mallory. Though the novel may not have been initially planned as an ongoing series, the dialogue and interaction between Mallory and the Grundy prove there is fertile ground for more stories in this world. Well, this has already proven true in the case of two Mallory stories which appeared in the great collection New Dreams for Old, also issued by Pyr.
As with most of the Resnick novels Pyr’s been publishing the past couple of years, Stalking the Unicorn has ample “DVD-extra” material as appendices. These little asides further flesh-out character details, providing an added depth and resonance to this world.
If I can raise any complaint (and it is minor) it is that the dialogue seems a little too quippy and trite in some instances. Other than that, Stalking the Unicorn as a terrifically entertaining novel. This novel, combined with the assorted Mallory stories Resnick has published, are a welcome re-addition to the Urban Fantasy subgenre that is so popular right now. Adorned with a terrific pulpy cover by Dan Dos Santos, the physical book has a great look and feel. Even better, Resnick and Pyr published simultaneously with this reissue, Stalking the Vampire, which is next on my plate. Hopefully, we’ll see even more Mallory stories.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford
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