BOOK REVIEW Sideways in Crime

A clever collection of killer tales

Editor: Lou Anders

Publisher: Solaris • 368 pages • £10.99

ISBN: 978-1-844-16566-7

Rating:

According to editor Lou Anders, the mystery and science fiction genres have much in common. How does he know? He quotes science fiction and crime writer Robert J Sawyer in his introduction to this anthology of new stories: “SF and mystery… both prize rational thinking and both require the reader to pick up clues artfully salted about what is really going on.” Sounds plausible to us and, on the basis of Sideways in Crime, refining that idea by asking science fiction writers to contribute stories that mix elements of crime fiction with the alternate history story is in itself a nifty notion.

Take “Chicago” by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, which messes with the idea of what makes us who we are by mixing up memory wipes, clones and gangsterdom in a manner that would make even that commander-in-chief of shifting identities, M John Harrison, proud. Also holding up the British end, John Meaney’s “Via Vortex” is built around a gory idea of how near-instant teleportation might be achieved. If we didn’t know him better, we’d be worried… As for Stephen Baxter, “Fate and the Fire-Lance”, set in a 20th-century Roman Empire, proves he’s as adept at the whodunit as he is at rewiring the past.

Of the names that may be less familiar to British readers, “G-Men” by Kristine Kathyrn Rusch, an American scribbler who somehow finds time to write SF, mystery, fantasy and romance, stands out. A ’60s-set story of J Edgar Hoover’s death that also dramatises conflict between President LBJ and his attorney-general, Robert F Kennedy, it brilliantly conjures up a sense of place.

Other writers come up with ideas so beautifully simple that you wonder why they haven’t been explored before. What if Arthur Conan Doyle had written Sherlock Holmes stories but never published them? It’s a notion put forward by Jack McDevitt in “The Adventure of the Southsea Trunk”: “They loved [historical novel] The White Company. And they liked the Professor Challenger novels as well.” Other strong entries come from Mary Rosenblum, Pat Cadigan and Chris Roberson.

Without mentioning names, some of the other stories are less successful, usually because the writers concerned appear to be trying too hard. Another problem – a frequent occurrence in any anthology built around a single idea – is that unless you dip in and out of the book, certain themes and tics can start to become irritating. Here, the sheer cleverness of so many of the stories can become wearing: as clever twist follows clever idea, don’t be surprised if occasionally you find yourself yearning for more straightforward narratives.

Jonathan Wright

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