The John Justin Mallory Mysteries: Fables of Tonight
Stalking the Unicorn
Stalking the Vampire
Stalking the Dragon
By Mike Resnick
Published by Audible Frontiers
Read by Peter Gannon
I’ve blown hot and cold on Mike Resnick’s stories. They are all technically well-written, but some of them, while I admire the writing skill do not drag me back for another look. The John Justin Mallory novels, however, found me a delighted reader and listener.
Mallory is your classic hard-boiled detective, stereotypical of his breed really, with his seedy office somewhere in Manhattan when, on a stormy New Year’s Eve, in walks an elf. The elf proceeds to hire Mallory to find a missing unicorn before sunrise. Failure to do so will mean the death of the elf so the offer is good and in spite of Mallory’s misgivings, they are off. The elf leads Mallory along a circuitous route and they soon find themselves in another Manhattan, one in which fantasy creatures abound. It soon turns out that the unicorn was kidnapped at the behest of the elf’s world’s most powerful demon, a creature called “The Grundy.”
The possibility of tangling with a demon, however, does not faze Mallory and along the way he picks up a strange assortment of allies; a cat-girl named Felina, a tiny, talking horse who calls himself Eohippus and a retired female great white hunter; Colonel Winnifred Carruthers and still others. Also along the way he has many strange and surrealistic encounters with the denizens of that other Manhattan from the goblin sidewalk salesmen who never have anything worth buying or at least anything they are selling is wildly inappropriate to the season to a couple old chess players who have been playing since World War II and ignoring the world outside their chessboard.
Indeed, these encounters stand as testimony to Mister Resnick’s great talent for writing humor. However, if there is a flaw in Stalking the Unicorn and the rest of the series it is that there are too many pointless albeit humorous encounters and after a while one cannot help but notice that they are filler, that might well have been intended to stretch the story out to meet a publisher’s need for a certain number of pages.
Does Mallory really have the time to talk to an Olympic Marathon runner who somehow took Bugs Bunny’s wrong turn at Albuquerque (so to speak) several decades earlier and has been running all around the world ever since in search of a finish line (regardless of the fact that he had to have crossed several oceans along the way to Manhattan) when he has a deadline only a few hours away?
All three books, in fact, have the same basic formula. Mallory and his partner Winnifred and the “office cat,” Felina have only a very limited time frame in which to complete their mission, but all along the way Mallory is constantly beset and bemused by the odd denizens of the other Manhattan.
For the most part, however, the stories are well written and so much fun to read that you only realize how much time is being wasted by encounters with goblins selling suntan lotion in the middle of a blizzard well after the fact.
Over all, Peter Gannon does a very good job of reading these stories. He seems inordinately fond of strongly accented voices, a habit I sometimes refer to as “resorting to funny voices.” For example that elf I mentioned above had a Germanic-sounding name, so he was portrayed with a heavy German accent, even though he seemed to be otherwise native to Manhattan. However, like Resnick’s frequent side trips perpendicular to reality, one quickly becomes adapted to the world-spanning range of accents, and when I think of it, they are no more varied that one is likely to encounter in our version of New York City.
In all, I highly recommend this series. The stories are witty and entertaining – perfect rainy day afternoon books and also excellent for listening to on a long trip.