Harry Dresden, Repairman Jack, Felix Castor, then?
April 17, 2009 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some book recommendations: Urban fantasy stories featuring investigators vs the supernatural.

I've already read all of Butcher's Dresden Files, Wilson's Repairman Jack, and Carey's Felix Castor series. I'd like to continue to read books about lone investigator/private eyes combating the supernatural in an urban fantasy setting, but after a bit of experimentation, I keep on stumbling upon series that either devolve into softcore porn or are not very well written, or both (so Anita Blake is right out).

So where do I go from here? Spring is finally springing and I'd like some light, entertaining reading.

Extra-points for Kindle content.
posted by robocop is bleeding to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (43 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Just to get the obvious out of the way: what about Dirk Gently? Or is that too light?
posted by swordfishtrombones at 9:40 AM on April 17, 2009

Response by poster: Already read'em. I don't mind the lightness, provided the action doesn't suffer.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:43 AM on April 17, 2009

Hm. Dexter?
posted by miratime at 9:50 AM on April 17, 2009

Liz Williams' Detective Inspector Chen series might fit the bill.
posted by zamboni at 9:51 AM on April 17, 2009

While it's a comic book (and one great TV season) The Middleman seems like it would fit the genre you're looking for.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 9:51 AM on April 17, 2009

Whoops, entered too soon...

...not exactly supernatural, but it does have that dark, urban, dreamy sort of feeling to it.

The Odd Thomas books come to mind as well. It does have supernatural elements and is fairly "light," though Odd isn't exactly an investigator in the professional sense.
posted by miratime at 9:52 AM on April 17, 2009

How about Stealing the Elf-King's Roses, by Diane Duane? There's urban fantasy and investigation, though it might be a little less hardboiled and a little more fantasy than you're looking for (and they're not fighting the supernatural so much as solving supernatural mysteries), but I really liked it.
posted by sineala at 9:52 AM on April 17, 2009

I liked Kim Harrison's Dead Witch Walking and subsequent books.
posted by Knicke at 10:00 AM on April 17, 2009

Best answer: I've greatly enjoyed Simon R. Green's 'Deathstalker' series and his 'Nightside' series seem right up your alley.
posted by BigBwana at 10:07 AM on April 17, 2009

I like both The Greywalker series, with a female detective from Seattle who can see ghosts after an accident and the Mercy Thompson series with a Female mechanic who can shift into a coyote. They are both in urban settings with a variety of supernatural elements and neither delve into the pornographic vibe of Anita Blake.
posted by CoralAmber at 10:11 AM on April 17, 2009

It's not quite what you're asking for, but many of Charles DeLint's books are set up in a somewhat similar fashion; ordinary people living in ordinary cities, with the supernatural hidden just out of view. Sometimes it's malevolent, sometimes not, but they generally need to figure out what's going on and deal with it. His characters drift in and out of different books -- several of them are set in a somewhat continuous universe, although each stands alone. I think I remember one detective, but it's been awhile.

The writing is lovely, and it's a rich vein to mine -- he's been at it for decades, and has generated a large library. Definitely no porn. This is high quality stuff.

It's almost what you're asking for -- if you squint a little, you can probably make it fit. :)
posted by Malor at 10:12 AM on April 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Laura Anne Gilman's Retrievers series, starting with Staying Dead. Investigationness: moderate. Sexiness: little.
Devon Monk's Magic To the Bone. Investigationness: moderate. Sexiness: some.
Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniels series, starting with Magic Bites. Investigationness: moderate. Sexiness: some.
Rob Thurman's series, starting with Nightlife. Investigationness: high. Sexiness: little.
Mark Del Franco's Connor Grey series, starting with Unshapely Things Investigationness: high. Sexiness: little.
Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, starting with Darkfever Investigationness: high. Sexiness: some.
Simon Green's Nightside series, starting with Something from the Nightside. Investigationness: high. Sexiness: little.

Pity my library's mostly in boxes, but this is all I can quickly remember.
posted by adipocere at 10:15 AM on April 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Charlie Stross's Atrocity Archives (and its sequel, Jennifer Morgue) deal with the employees of an obscure british bureaucracy that handles all manner of supernatural events. It's quite good.
posted by Oktober at 10:16 AM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jasper Fforde's "The Big Over Easy" and "The Fourth Bear" are both urban fantasy detective stories. As are his Thursday Next series I suppose - "The Eyre Affair", "Lost in a Good Book", "The Well of Lost Plots", "Something Rotten" and "First Among Sequels".

All have a few supernatural elements in them but I wouldn't categorize them as that primarily. Fantasy first, urban definitely (if you consider Reading, England urban) with some supernatural elements - in one of the Thursday Next books she encounters a cloven-hoofed demon, there are vampires ion one or two spots, etc. But those are colour elements and not really the central theme.

Also, they extremely funny and use a lot of puns. Painful, elaborate puns. In one case a pun is set up over the course of the entire book.
posted by GuyZero at 10:32 AM on April 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

You've read Hellblazer, right? John Constantine isn't quite a detective (more like Repairman Jack), but it's a fantastic, if sometimes gruesome series.

There's another comic series with a non-magical detective in an urban fantasty world that's not coming to mind.
posted by canine epigram at 10:36 AM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy Wen Spencer's "Ukiah Oregon" novels, though they're more sci-fi than supernatural. I found them to be quite the kick.
posted by kindall at 10:48 AM on April 17, 2009

Best answer: Shout out for my friend Tim Pratt's Marla Mason books, which are indeed Kindley.

Marla's not quite a detective either, but she's probably as close to detectivehood as Repairman Jack. She's the chief sorcerer of her city, and a dangerously crotchety bitch, dealing with various supernatural threats to her city, or just attempts by other sorcerers to depose her for really pissing them off.

Good stuff.
posted by Naberius at 10:57 AM on April 17, 2009

You might like Stanislav Lem's The Investigation, which is not very "genre" but very very excellent.
posted by nasreddin at 11:05 AM on April 17, 2009

The "Night Watch" books by Sergei Lukyanenko aren't generally too procedural -- they're about a protagonist who just happens to work in a supernatural bureaucracy. They might fit the bill, though.

I also read a book a few years back that would really fit. It's set in a modern-day city where magic-users are registered and limited in their use of power. The protagonist is a hard-boiled female detective in the paranormal division who really hates magic users. That's all I can really say without spoiling the plot. I'm pretty sure it was by a woman, and a first novel (or at least a first paranormal novel). Sorry I can't be more specific on this one!
posted by Alterscape at 11:13 AM on April 17, 2009

Century Rain is basically detective vs supernatural meets sf (which explains the supernatural). It is primarily set in alternate universe mid-20th century Paris, and also involves more than 1 protagonist. Very good read, I tore through it, maybe you will like it?
posted by shownomercy at 11:16 AM on April 17, 2009

On the comics side there's Hellboy and BRPD, both of which are well served by collected editions. Caballistics Inc. may actually be closer to what you want, though harder to get outside of the UK.
posted by Artw at 11:17 AM on April 17, 2009

Also Kim Newmans Diogenes Club stories, though they tend to be set anywhere from the 1900s till now.
posted by Artw at 11:19 AM on April 17, 2009

Response by poster: Comics-wise, I think I'm sated. My Hellboy (including BRPD and various novel/la tie-ins) is pretty complete, as is my Constantine (which is how I found Mike Carey after reading his Lucifer) and Rex Mundi.

Loving the recommendations so far. My wallet isn't, as the damn Kindle makes it way to easy to accidentally spend money on several first books in series. (Although Tim Pratt's agent has the right idea - first one's free).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:24 AM on April 17, 2009

Best answer: Glen Cook's Garrett, P.I. series.
posted by fings at 11:34 AM on April 17, 2009

If you’re interested in the Lovecraftian angle, and you’re weird enough to enjoy routing through RPG sourcebooks, the Delta Green material is absolutely fantastic. There’s some Delta Green fiction as well, but it can be hard to get hold of.
posted by Artw at 11:36 AM on April 17, 2009

Daniel Hecht's Cree Black novels might fit the bill. I only read the first but enjoyed it.
posted by otio at 11:39 AM on April 17, 2009

Given the series you listed, Rob Thurman's books (per adipocere) is exactly what you're looking for. Green's Nightside books are a little similar, but there's a larger than life quality to the characters that takes the gritty PI edge off of it a bit. Briggs' Mercy Thompson books are good, but they do have a romance angle, which is relatively low key so far.
posted by jefftang at 12:25 PM on April 17, 2009

I don't know if it's quite what you're looking for, but Keith Hartman's The Gumshoe, the Witch and the Virtual Corpse features a gay private eye in a near-future Atlanta investigating a series of ritual murders. There're definite paranormal elements, although it's mainly in the science fiction vein (but there is working magic). It's a highly entertaining book, told from multiple points of view, which I don't normally like, but it worked well in this case. I liked the world-building a lot; Hartman's got a neat thing going on about television-type media being specifically tunable to various interests (dial-adjustable sexual, religious, etc., content). Will not appeal to those who do not like gay characters (or Wiccans, or to anyone who does not like any lambasting of conservative Christians as conspiring villains). The sequel, Gumshoe Gorilla, was also highly entertaining.
posted by lysimache at 12:31 PM on April 17, 2009

Benighted by Kit Whitfield was my best book of 2007. In a country where almost everyone is a werewolf, the 'benighted' few that aren't police the rest ('cause they're the only ones who keep their heads at full-moon). Murder, mayhem and a deeply-charged psychological thriller follow.
posted by bonehead at 1:12 PM on April 17, 2009

Christopher Fowler's Rune (two detectives and an elderly librarian versus Satan and his minions). There is a sequel, Darkest Day, which I haven't read, and a series of spin-off mystery novels featuring the two detectives, Bryant and May, who work for the Peculiar Crimes Unit at Scotland Yard.

Peter van Greenaway's 'Cassandra' Bell is a bit obscure, and long out of print, but worth reading if you can find a cheap secondhand copy. It's years since I read it, but it still sticks in my memory. The detective, Inspector Cherry, stumbles across the prophecies of a long-dead Victorian seeress and gradually realises that they are coded messages, addressed to him personally, about crimes that are going to happen in the future.

Kate Griffin's A Madness of Angels (urban sorcerer in contemporary London -- this is more fantasy than detective fiction, though it nods in the direction of Raymond Chandler and the classic American private-eye novel). This is available on Kindle.
posted by verstegan at 1:14 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was coming to suggest the already mentioned Liz Williams... I read Snake Agent and thought it was interesting, not perfect but stellar but worth it. But since somebody else noted it I'll thought I'd mention, the site where I found it has things tagged both as "urban fantasy" and "urban paranormal" - might be worth browsing. Also, is that the real Felicia Day, d'you suppose? Who knows? I guess she isn't that big outside geekland.
posted by nanojath at 1:17 PM on April 17, 2009

A bit lighter, but weirder: 9Tail Fox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. The reincarnated ghost of a corrupt police detective has to solve his own murder.
posted by bonehead at 1:19 PM on April 17, 2009

Last one I promise: one of the best new comedic writers in years, A. Lee Martinez, has a robot detective, an AI-PI if you will, solving the mystery of his neighbour's disappearance. Mutants, aliens, killbots, this one has it all: The Automatic Detective. Any of his other books are also highly recommended, but that's his only noir to date. We can but hope.

Oh: one more last +1: The John Zakour (and sometimes Larry Ganem) series about the last freelance detective Zach and his AI implant Harv. I think The Radioactive Redhead is the first. Not up to Martinez's very high standard, but good light reads, the whole series.
posted by bonehead at 1:32 PM on April 17, 2009

I just had a conversation this morning about The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, and your question kind of reminded me of it, even though it's sort of the opposite, with a normal killer trying to evade psychic police.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 1:43 PM on April 17, 2009

Last +2 (shoot me please): Thraxas by "Martin Scott" (aka Martin Millar), has Thraxas, an over-weight, alcoholic, veteran in a high-fantasy Rome-like city, cutting deals, caging drinks and occasionally solving crimes. Pulp fantasy noir. Like the Zakour books, not the best writing, but consistently quick, funny reads.
posted by bonehead at 1:43 PM on April 17, 2009

First choice recommendations are all taken but you might try Alasdair Gray's 'Lanark'. Modern Scottish lit classic about protagonist's search for a cure to developing "dragonscale". Quite strange and alegorical but very captivating.
posted by BadMiker at 3:10 PM on April 17, 2009

So here's a series that doesn't get talked about much but which I found strangely riveting, lo, these many years ago - Tanya Huff's Blood series, five books that begin with Blood Price (1991).

Female private investigator -- former cop who had to quit when she started to go blind -- investigates a murder, stumbles into a weird supernatural world featuring all sorts of creepy creatures, and finds her only help in navigating this mess in the form of Henry Fitzroy, a centuries-old vampire who is also the illegitimate son of Henry VIII.

It's a weird series, but I remember being highly entertained.
posted by artemisia at 4:07 PM on April 17, 2009

More spies than investigators, but Declare by Tim Powers is really worth checking out. Actually Tim Powers in general.
posted by Artw at 4:11 PM on April 17, 2009

I read the Diana Tregarde series as a teenager - they seem to have all the elements you're looking for. They may be a bit light (probably about on-par with Dan Brown), but they're decent page turners.
posted by MesoFilter at 6:25 PM on April 17, 2009

Ooh, yeah, artemesia's got a good one there. I read 1 or 2 of that series. I was trying to think of those when I posted about Charles deLint, and just couldn't summon a concrete enough memory to find it on Amazon. I think I picked it up when the series wasn't done, and forgot to finish, but I suspect you'd probably enjoy it quite a bit.

It was actually the very first thing that came to mind when I read your question -- deLint was the fallback answer. :)
posted by Malor at 10:25 AM on April 18, 2009

Hope it's not too late to answer this -- I second the Keith Hartman and the Tim Powers (for him I recommend the Fisher King trilogy that starts with Last Call.) Also, get your hands on Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt series ... I don't even like vampires but I cannot get enough of them. Here's a little of the first.
posted by runtina at 10:03 AM on April 19, 2009

Response by poster: Lots of good stuff here.

Tim Powers - Already a huge fan, right down to the autographed tarot card.
A. Lee Martinez - This guy just exploded out of nowhere. One moment it was just Gil's All fright Diner and the next it's like 400 books by the guy. They must really do everything big in Texas.

I downloaded Pratt's Blood Engines, Cook's Sweet Silver Blues, Stross' The Atrocity Archives, Green's Something from the Nightside, and del Franco's Unshapely Things. I am about a third of the way through Blood Engines.

I had previously read Huston's first Joe Pitt (Already Dead) and found it okay. Maybe it's a history of playing White Wolf games, but there were not any new ideas that struck me, except for sticking that damn 'y' in Vampyre and Vyrus. Maybe it was first novel syndrome with Huston needing to detail a setting that was already pretty familiar to me.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:35 AM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

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