Random (but not really)

Monday, October 23, 2017

My Favorite Supernatural Mysteries

Since the first genre I ever read was mystery, I adore supernatural mysteries. It doesn’t matter if they are private detectives or police, I love mysteries with a supernatural twist. Funny thing is that I don’t even try to solve the mysteries—and I can read good mysteries over and over—it’s something about the process that fascinates me.

Of course, I also love that mysteries are almost always wrapped up in a single book. They rarely have cliffhangers, which may also be why they are a favorite. Below are some of my favorite mysteries, and the reasons why I love them so much. Clicking on a book title will take you to Amazon. Clicking on the author name will take you to my page for that author, with my reviews and the series in order.

These series are listed alphabetically by author, because it would be extremely difficult for me to order them as favorites.

Best of Index


Midnight Riot (2011) by Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London)

The Rivers of London series occurs in our world, but the supernatural is hidden from most people. Peter Grant accidentally becomes an apprentice wizard and the second full time member of the unit that polices the supernatural.

First, I utterly adore Peter. He is a tremendous geek. He gets caught up in minutiae and constantly goes off on tangents. For example, he loves architecture, and is constantly commenting on various buildings.

It’s a bland box of a building built in the 1970s; it was considered to be so lacking in architectural merit that there was talk of listing it so that it could be preserved for posterity as an awful warning.

He also loves Dr Who and various other geek things, and blithely makes hilarious asides.

So Newton, like all good seventeenth-century intellectuals, wrote in Latin because that was the international language of science, philosophy and, I found out later, upmarket pornography.

The characters are marvelous here, full of minorities and women like you’d expect in the normal population. But the minorities aren’t there to be minorities to tick a box, they are there because any group is going to have members of a minority, so of course there are minorities in this book.

Like most police mysteries, the main story arc is completed within each book, but like reality, there are on-going questions that aren’t answers, and might never be answered.

In addition to the books, this series also has an on-going comic, and this spring a free audio book was released. My theory is that the author has more material than he can use in a single book, and is spinning those stories off into comics and short stories. This series also has, hands-down, my favorite narrator. I can quite literally listen to Kobna Holdbrook-Smith over and over and have to stop myself from doing so, because there are a lot more books out there for me to listen to.


London Falling (2013) Paul Cornell (Shadow Police)

This is a series that occurs in our world, where the supernatural is hidden from most of the population. It’s also very dark and a lot of bad things happen.

That said, it’s a current ongoing favorite because the mysteries are so very good, the characters are complicated, and despite the darkness, there are many things that make me laugh.

“Might as well look as if we’re together,” said Sefton, under his breath, as he pressed the tea bag against the side of his cup to try and force out a bit of flavor. “Seeing we’re the only black guys in here.”

“The New Age,” agreed Costain, “does not recruit in line with best practice.

“It’ll take weeks of grunt work and potentially lead nowhere,” said Quill. “Excellent: that sounds like police work to me. Anyone got anything else?”

But as I said, be aware that a LOT of horrible things happen in this series. The worst part is that although they come as a complete shock when they occur, you should theoretically have seen them coming. But of course you don’t because normal people wouldn’t expect such awful things.

This series also has one of the biggest shocks I have ever been given by a book. I literally had to re-read the passage several times because I couldn’t believe it went there.

This is dark and frequently horrible, so it’s not for everyone, but it’s also incredibly good and I’m awaiting the next book in the series, and hope it’s as good as the previous three. If you like to listen to books, I really like the narrator for this series.


Something from the Nightside (2003) Simon R. Green (Nightside)

The Nightside is a London where it is always 3 AM and your most secret and terrible desires can be fulfilled. It’s also a place from which John Taylor fled after multiple attempts on his life. So at the start of the series he’s working as a detective in normal London. But obviously that doesn’t last long and he returns to the Nightside.

One of the things I particularly like about John Taylor is that he achieves things through his reputation rather than blunt force and trauma. In fact, his reputation usually keeps him from having to resort to other tactics.

“You here to cause trouble?” (the enforcer) said, in a voice so deep he must have had a third testicle tucked away in there somewhere.

“Almost certainly,” I said.

“Right, lads! said the enforcer, glancing back over his shoulder to address the rest of the street. “Pick up your feet, we are out of here. This is Dead Boy and John bloody Taylor, and we are not being paid nearly enough to take on the likes of them. Everybody round to Greasy Joan’s cafe, where we will wait out whatever appalling things are about to happen.”

There is a huge element of horror to this series, but it is so over the top and ridiculous that it has never bothered me. That might also be because there is much silliness as well.

Next door to the brothel was a dark and spooky little shop selling reliquaries–the bones of saints, fragments of the True Cross, and the like. Special offer that week was apparently the skull of John the Baptist. Next to it was a smaller skull, labelled JOHN THE BAPTIST AS A CHILD.

Plus, most things are left to your imagination.

I used my special gift to find the channel control signal and used it to tune every single television screen to the same appalling show. I’d found it accidentally one night while channel hopping (never a good idea in the Nightside, where we get not only the whole world’s output, but also transmissions from other worlds and other dimensions), and I actually had to go and hide behind the sofa till it was over. The John Waters Celebrity Perversion Hour is the single most upsetting pornography ever produced, and now it was blasting out of dozens of screens simultaneously.

This is a 12-book series with an associated short-story collection. The series is completed, including the story arc that left you with one book that had an incomplete conclusion. But since the series is done, the single cliffhanger isn’t bad at all.  The short story collection would be a good way to see if this is your cup of tea. Simon Green is very good with short stories, which is something I particularly appreciate.

This series is not for everyone, and I wouldn’t recommend reading one book right after another, as some things can get repetitive, but it’s a fun series, and frequently made me laugh out loud. I’ve listened to some of this as audio book, and they are fine. Not my favorites, but not so awful I had to stop listening.


hard-spellHard Spell (2011) Justin Gustainis (Occult Crimes Unit)

This is a police procedural set in an alternate Scranton OH, where supernatural beings are out and common, and the police have to deal with crimes in that community just like they would with any other minority community.

Cops on the Supe Squad spend as much time investigating crimes committed against supes as we do on crimes with a supe perpetrator, and the supe community knows that. If a cop is fair in his dealing with them, the supes remember.

Except that there are other things to consider, which is one of the things I enjoy about this series.

“That doesn’t apply to supernaturals, of course.”

“How come?” Karl asked.

“Because the distinctions aren’t as clear. For instance, do you consider a vampire who kills people a serial killer, or just hungry?”

There are only three books in this series, which is too bad, because I find it a lot of fun. It does tend towards gruesome, and does have some of THE worst covers, but I love the take on supernatural policing.



The-Grendel-AffairThe Grendel Affair (2013) Lisa Shearin (SPI Files)

Makenna Fraser is a Seer who has come to work for SPI (Supernatural Protection & Investigations). She grew up in a rural town where the supernatural were an open secret, so she is used to the strange—although New York has a greater variety of strange than did her home town.

To tell you the truth, our job was a lot easier when John and Suzie Q. Public didn’t know they were lucky to make it to the office every morning without getting pecked to pieces. Though that was only during the Werepigeon Infestation of 2003. Before my time, but definitely one for the agency history books.

One of my favorite things about this series is that Mac’s powers don’t give her many abilities beyond that of being able to see through all glamours, which means that she is at greater danger than her colleagues, especially since Seers are so rare and seem to have been targeted by an unknown bad guy.

She is also well-aware of her limitations, which I love even more.

I was smart enough to know and accept that I could be trained by the best and still never qualify as a badass. My goal was simply to make it to work each day and home every night.

I adore her self-awareness.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that Mac doesn’t get into situations. She comes from a law-enforcement family, so she has had the instinct to protect drilled into her, so she’s not a wimp. But it means that when something happens she has to deal with the consequences—long term.

This is a fun romp of a series with some romance, but it is not the main theme, and her romance is NOT with her partner. If you like to listen to your books, I like the narrator for this series—she does a good job with the rural accent, which I appreciate. I also love the covers of these books.  Mac and Ian are always shown in action and Mac wears reasonable clothes. I LOVE that.


Snake Agent (2005) Liz Williams (Detective Inspector Chen)

Snake Agent and the rest of the series are set in Singapore Three where Detective Inspector Chen is a snake agent, or police officer in charge of supernatural issues, whose wife is from Hell, a fact he fears has caused trouble with his patron goddess. In the first story Chen meets up with his eventual partner for the series, an agent from Hell.

The trouble with Hell, Zhu Irzh reflected bitterly, was not so much the palpable miasma of evil (with which he was, after all, ingrained) but the bureaucracy.

I love the characters in this series: Chen, Zhu Irzh, the Badger. All fascinate me, as does the world where the existence of Heaven and Hell are taken for granted. To be clear, this is not a Western Hell. It is an Eastern Hell, which makes it all the more fascinating for me. Take this bit from a later book:

His mother, the shrill, quarrelsome Mrs Roche, had long since passed into one of the more pleasant neighborhoods of Hell, if that wasn’t a contradiction in terms. She sometimes telephoned, a tinny, distant voice in her son’s ear, demanding to know why he was still unwed.

I adore that.

This is a lovely series of five books, each a self-contained story and mystery. The original covers are some of my all-time favorites. Utterly gorgeous.

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