Mike Resnick’s Stalking the Zombie

There’s actually a fairly long history for the fantasy detective genre, going back at least to Randall Garrett’s stories of Lord Darcy from the 1960s. The genre has enjoyed a roster of stellar practitioners — Michael Moorcock, Glenn Cook, Steven Brust, Tanya Huff, to name just a few. Add to that list Mike Resnick, who first entered the field with his three novels about John Justin Mallory (Stalking the Unicorn, Stalking the Vampire and Stalking the Dragon), who lives, these days, in the Manhattan that we sometimes see out of the corner of our eye — the one inhabited by elves, unicorns, goblins, and less pleasant creatures.

Stalking the Zombie is a collection of short stories focusing on Mallory, his partner Winifred Carruthers, and the office cat girl, Felina — who is, approximately, human, but whose motivations and reactions are feline in the extreme. In this collection, Mallory is stalking a pink elephant (someone has pulled a switch), a blue-nosed reindeer (no, not a prude — a reindeer with a blue nose), the Chinese Sandman (he steals dreams), and other more or less bizarre inhabitants of this particular New York. His clients range all the way from John Fitzgerald Kennedy (it’s an alias, of course — he doesn’t want to call attention to himself) to the Grundy, the most powerful demon on the East Coast, and Mallory’s sworn enemy.

I wish I could point to highlights here, but I can’t. I’m not sure it was a good idea to print these stories in one collection, at least without some editing: they rapidly become repetitive, and while the dialogue is fairly sharp, the jokes get stale pretty quickly. The Grundy, for example, appears in every story, always accompanied by the same introductory/descriptive paragraph — verbatim, from one story to the next. The same goes for the Prince of Whales, whose appearances are marked by the same kind of repetition. And we very quickly learn that Felina’s first question about anything is “Can I eat it?”

And the mysteries aren’t hard — not for Mallory and not for the reader. We’re all used to a detective putting clues together in his mind and not letting the rest of us in on the secret, but Mallory puts them together very quickly and we don’t have anything to play with. Granted, these are short stories, but from a writer as accomplished as Resnick, I would hope for something more engaging.

I suspect that, taken one or two at a time, these stories might have a different effect, although I can’t guess how different. It’s not that they’re bad stories — Resnick is too capable a writer for that — it’s just that they’re slight and formulaic. Small doses.

(American Fantasy, 2012)

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